Book Review–The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

Title: The Shell Seekers

Author: Rosamund Pilcher

Format: Electronic

Written: 1984

Published: 2013 [Date of Kindle release]

 

This is a classic book; it invariably shows up on Top 100 lists and if you mention it to a woman who is older than 35 you’ll likely get a breathlessly enthusiastic recommendation.   “Oh! The Shell Seekers! That’s one of my favourites!”

When it was released for Kindle earlier this month I decided I’d download it and give it a re-read.   I’d read it in the distant past and didn’t remember much about it at all.  I DID know that I’d given it one star on GoodReads but had no written review.  I decided to see what I had so disliked previously and if I still disliked it now.

A Rosamund Pilcher book is famously hard to describe simply because nothing very earth shattering ever happens.  You watch people go about their lives in a plodding manner.   Cozy cottages and delicious meals are described in detail and tiny conversations happen throughout.   A true Rosamund Pilcher book is somewhat like being dropped wholly clothed but invisible into the everyday lives of a group of British people.

The folk at the center of this story are the family and friends of Penelope Keeling, a woman who is just released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack when the book opens.    Penelope is the daughter of noted painter Lawrence Stern and has inherited a few works of his that have gone up in value considerably.   The book takes its title from his last and most personal painting, The Shell Seekers.

The story itself covers the whole of Penelope’s life in a time-shifting narrative structure that illuminates her life for the reader.   It focuses primarily on the idyll of Britain between the two world wars, the changing life in Britain during the late 1970s/early 1980s and the evolution of life in Britain during World War II.   Pilcher’s style of story-telling makes these eras and the people in them come alive.

My difficulty as a reviewer is in giving the book a particular score.   If I evaluate the story purely on its technical merits there is little doubt that I’d have to give it at least a 4.5.   I found myself unable to put the book down, always wanting to know what happens next to Penelope and her family.   The fact is, however, that Penelope and her family are some of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met in a work of fiction, and that includes a body of reading which covers a lot of books with serial killers, spies, dark wizards and tyrants.   As loathsome as Voldemort, Ed Gein and Hitler are they really have nothing on the general disgustingness of Penelope and her children.    All of them are materialistic to a fault, valuing things either for their monetary worth or their bohemian cache.  Penelope dislikes her children and fobs her eldest daughter off on a housemate to raise yet characterises that same daughter as selfish and materialistic.

The bulk of the book’s driving action is of this family as it schemes and plots to get the valuable artworks sold and divvy up the money.   So it’s a technically brilliant story focusing on an absolutely horrible group of people.

How does one rate a book like that?    In the past I’d rated it one star.  On reflection I think that I have to herein give this novel a rating of 4.   It’s a trick, I think, for an author to be able to tell a story so compelling that I read it in spite of the characters involved.   It’s an even greater trick for an author to have used a time-shifting narrative to get her reader to understand how her characters evolved into the people they became.  The fact that I ended the book with tears in my eyes speaks to Pilcher’s fantastic skill as an author.   Still and all, I can’t give this one a 5 just because those hateful people really detract.

4 bookworms

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Sundays With The Bookworm | Just Another Pretty Farce
  2. E, ROBOT
    Sep 10, 2016 @ 19:22:36

    This books was written 42 years ago and if I’d read it then I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing it, at age 82, I really appreciate the book and identified with the heroine. Also it’s a pleasure to read a book that I didn’t have to use my metaphysical green pencil even once.

    Reply

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