Rosamunde Pilcher had written many other novels before she was talked into digging her teeth into a truly meaty piece of work. According to Pilcher herself, it was her children who encouraged her to think big and supported her along the way as she wrote The Shell Seekers.
The Shell Seekers, is a gorgeous novel, rich in story and splendid characters. The story takes place largely in England – mostly Cornwall and London. The story goes back and forth between contemporary time immediately following the main character — Penelope Keeling — having a mild heart attack and just as England is entering World War II.
Penelope is the daughter of a famous painter and his free-spirited wife. They brought Penelope up to be thoughtful and full of love and to know what is really important in life and not be concerned about what others think. Caught up in pre-war drama, she marries someone who is entirely wrong for her, something Penelope recognizes and regrets almost immediately.
The marriage results in three children. Two of her three children want nothing more than to get ahold of their mother’s money and their grandfather’s paintings – in particular, one called the Shell Seekers, to sell and take the proceeds. Middle-born Olivia alone accepts her mother for who she is and supports her life decisions.
Through flashbacks, the reader learns that Penelope, though stuck in a boring marriage for many years, for the most part had a rich and full life, filled with friends and exciting experiences. Pilcher does a wonderful job of describing the characters and setting the scenes so that the reader truly feels they are part of the story. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever felt quite so a part of the story. The author’s descriptions of the characters — down to their clothes and facial expressions — leave the reader feeling as though they really know them.
The tension builds as Penelope befriends a young man and a young girl who feel more like family than do her own children. Jealousy abounds and the story plays out in an entirely satisfying way.
I always measure a book, at least in part, by how memorable the characters are and whether or not I would want to spend time with them. Though Penelope lives her life very differently than I would in her shoes, I would love to be invited to one of her glorious parties and participate in some of her wonderful conversations and meals.
It took me a long time to decide to read this book as I had different expectations. I’m very glad I did. It is a long and delicious book, and you think about it long after you have read the final page.
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