1987 Thomas Dunne Books
Finished on April 27, 2022 (first read in 1988)
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)
An instant bestseller when it was first published, The Shell Seekers is an enduring classic that has touched the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. A novel of connection, it is the story of one family--mothers and daughters, husbands and lovers--and of the passions and heartbreak that have held them together for three generations. This magical novel--the kind of reading experience that comes along only once in a long while--is the perfect read, whether you are returning to it again or opening the cover for the first time.
At the end of a long and useful life, Penelope Keeling's prized possession is The Shell Seekers, painted by her father, and symbolizing her unconventional life, from bohemian childhood to wartime romance. When her grown children learn that their grandfather's work is now worth a fortune, each has an idea as to what Penelope should do. But as she recalls the passions, tragedies, and secrets of her life, she knows there is only one answer... and it lies in her heart.
I was not yet thirty when I first discovered Rosamunde Pilcher's beloved classic, The Shell Seekers. Not my typical genre (my nightstand stack usually included John Grisham, Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon), I wonder what prompted me to read a novel centered around the life of a divorced woman, sixty-four years old, an elderly woman in my twenty-six-year-old's mind. (And now I'm a mere four years shy of Penelope's age...). But I found such a wonderful story that spoke to me more deeply than anything I'd ever read. Recently remarried and raising my young daughter, I found happiness in the simple pleasures of creating a comfortable home, appreciating the beauty and peace found in nature, all of which was inspired by Pilcher's lyrical prose; the sort of which I had yet to discover in my usual reading. The simple act of preparing a cup of tea, enjoying it as I read the daily mail, or tending to my rose garden in the quiet hours of a Saturday morning, brought me joy.
The Shell Seekers made its way to my list of lifetime favorites and for over thirty years, I longed to read it again, but I was concerned it wouldn't live up to my first impressions. Last year, I decided to reread Winter Solstice (another wonderful novel by Pilcher) and enjoyed it immensely. I convinced myself that I would have a similar reaction with a reread of The Shell Seekers and I was right. It was a marvelous read and such a joy to revisit Penelope's story after all these years.
One of the joys of rereading an old favorite, particularly after the passage of more than thirty years, is that the book feels both familiar and new at the same time. I was surprised that while I remembered Penelope Keeling, her cozy cottage called Podmore's Thatch (in Gloucestershire, a county in South West England) and the young gardener she hired after her heart attack, I had long forgotten most of the details of the book, giving it the feeling of a new book of which I'd only read a synopsis. Another reason that I kept putting off a reread is due to the heft of the novel, which is over 600 pages (in paperback). It took me a little over two weeks to read, but it was time well spent. I enjoyed every page, never feeling impatient to finish, and eager to curl up with it each evening, anxious to learn more about Penelope's life in Cornwall and the Cotswolds.
The Shell Seekers has twice been adapted to film. A Hallmark Hall of Fame television production, starring Angela Lansbury, was nominated for an Emmy in 1989, and in 2006, a mini-series was developed starring Vanesa Redgrave. I have not watched either and don't think I will since books-to-movies are typically disappointments.
Readers of family sagas and historical fiction are sure to love this popular novel. I've returned it to a bookcase devoted to my favorites, and I look forward to revisiting it again when I'm in need of a comfort read. I love escaping into a big, fat book and I'm already looking forward to reading Coming Home, the only novel by Rosamunde Pilcher I've yet to read.