#50. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Shell Seekers is a 1987 novel by Rosamunde Pilcher. It became one of her most famous best-sellers. It was nominated by the British public in 2003 as one of the top 100 novels in the BBC’s Big Read. In Germany the novel is called ‘Die Muschelsucher’, and was also in the top 100 novels. The novel sold more than five million copies worldwide, and was adapted for the stage and as a film for television twice.
In The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher explores with great humanity the different realms of love, including the romantic, platonic and motherly. Shifting in time, the novel tells the story of Penelope Keeling, the daughter of unconventional parents (an artist father and his much-younger French wife), examining her past and her relationships with her adult children. When the novel opens, Penelope is in her 60s and has just been discharged from the hospital after what was seemingly a heart attack. Penelope’s life from young womanhood to the present is revealed in pieces, from her own point-of-view and those of her children. Much of the forward impetus of the novel involves the work of her father, including a painting called “The Shell Seekers,” given to Penelope as a wedding present. Penelope Keeling struggles with her conscience in deciding if she should sell a valuable painting given to her by her father. The money could help her grown-up children lead a more comfortable lifestyle. But the picture’s sentimental value draws her into the past and forces her to confront issues that have dogged her whole life. Although the dilemma Penelope faces appears two-dimensional, the storyline delves much deeper, laying bare her relationship with her children. The true characters of Penelope’s family are quite dark in some cases, and the reader can empathize with Penelope and the emotional entanglement she suffers.
The Shell Seekers is an extraordinary book, if only for its detail and descriptive passages. Although classified as a romantic family saga, it is a novel that can be enjoyed by readers of all genres for its historical, chronological and geographical depth. Each chapter is named after, and based around, one character in the story, and the chapters are spun together as fine as a silken web.
The book presents tragedy and ugliness in parts, especially through the war years and the atrocities that occurred during this era. However, the beautiful description, especially of the countryside, far outweighs these haunting moments. The book takes readers on a delightful and knowledgeable journey through England and other places, over a long period of time.
It draws the reader in gently, into another place, another time…
In Pilcher’s countryside you can almost smell the flowers as she takes your hand and leads you through the garden…
Now, at the end of the summer, the grass was still very green, and Sophie’s borders ablaze with Michaelmas daisies and snapdragons and dahlias. Up the face of the house climbed pink ivy-leaved geraniums and a clematis which each May produced a riot of pale lilac-coloured flowers…
The Shell Seekers is a novel that the reader can escape into, a novel that touches on human emotions, values, tragedies and passion, and leaves the reader wanting more.
Pilcher also wrote a spin off novel to The Shell Seekers called September which was published in 1990.
In 1988, this novel was on the New York Times Best Seller List as #1 for 30 consecutive weeks. It was #50 on the BBC Big Read Top 100 Novels in 2003. It ranked #50 on the BBC Top 100 List of 2011, and #155 on the Top 200 Novels that Everyone Must Read on GreatestNovels.com.