I rediscovered Rosamunde Pilcher when I picked up a copy of Winter Solstice at our library’s annual book sale. I’d read September ages ago, at an age when I failed to appreciate the nature of her cozy, detailed writing. I remember feeling disappointed at the lack of plot in September; it seemed like endless descriptions of tea, custards, cozy drawing rooms with blazing fires, and the obligatory whiskey or sherry in every meeting. Truly, Pilcher’s characters keep the whiskey companies in business…not a day goes by without someone pouring a stiff drink.
Anyway, I was all set not to like Winter Solstice, but found myself totally immersed in the beguiling characters. So I went to the library and picked up The Shell Seekers, supposedly her masterpiece. It was certainly a bestseller, making the New York Times list and selling millions of copies.
The Shell Seekers follows a meandering tale surrounding Penelope Keeling, an elderly woman who lives in a thatched cottage in the country. Penelope is the daughter of Lawrence Stern, a painter whose work was neglected during his lifetime but has now reached popular consciousness and whose work fetches hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction. Penelope owns three of her father’s works: two unfinished panels, and a painting of deep personal significant to her called The Shell Seekers.
Penelope has three children: Nancy, Olivia and Noel. Nancy is a stuffed-shirt kind of woman who lives above her means and constantly frets about money and appearances. Olivia, her unmarried career daughter, seems incapable of forming a lasting, loving attachment. Noel is a spendthrift wastrel, dreaming big dreams without substance. Of the three, Olivia is very likable but you want to shake her when she passes up the love of a lifetime and the chance for happiness.
Noel and Nancy are constantly harping on Penelope about money. They want her to sell the Stern paintings and give them the money. Penelope’s journey takes her back to Cornwall, in memory and reality, and we get a gorgeous backstory consisting of her elegant French mother, Sophie; her father and his friends; her childhood in Cornwall; her horrible marriage and her finding love and loss during World War II; and finally, what she decides to do with The Shell Seekers. In the meantime, two youngsters who arrive in her life become the life she didn’t get to live when her lover was killed during WW II. It’s all beautiful, and neatly comes full circle for a satisfying conclusion.
One thing about Pilcher’s books; characters tend to have affairs without remorse, which I happen to dislike in her books, especially because the affairs come easily, nobody is hurt, and it all works out in the end. Her characters also tend to jump into bed with people at the drop of a hat. The scenes aren’t depicted, but I’ve read reviews where people question the morality of her books, and I find myself teetering on a love-hate relationship with her books. On the one hand, they are cosy reads; I love sitting down in my comfy chair with a cup of tea and reading away at a Pilcher novel. On the other hand, I feel a little guilty about liking them when she’s got folks sleeping around and cheating on marraige vows, even if the marriage is depicted as loveless and horrible.
The Shell Seekers is a well-written and engaging sage. I think I liked Winter Solstice better, and I’ll write that review in a few days, but do grab a copy of The Shell Seekers if you haven’t read it yet. I borrowed my copy from the library, and because it was a best-seller, it should be easy to find a copy.
I give this book four out of five stars….three if you agree with me about the morality issues.