The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

Guild Publishing, 1988, 507 p

The Shell Seekers cover

It was the author’s recent death (so it goes) that prompted me to purloin this from the good lady’s bookshelves. Pilcher has been one of those writers I was aware of but had never felt the urge to sample – probably due to judging her books by their covers.

This is the tale of Penelope Keeling, lately having suffered a heart attack, and her immediate family’s reaction to that and their discovery that the works of her father, Laurence Stern, a painter out of fashion for decades, have surged in value. Three of his paintings remain on display in Penelope’s home, a huge canvas, The Shell Seekers of the title, his last remaining unsold painting, given to Penelope before his death, along with a pair of panels, unfinished. The novel unfolds through a prologue and sixteen chapters of varying length, each named for an individual. In reading them we learn of the significant details of the lives of Penelope, her two daughters and one son as well as the playing out of events following her discharging of herself from hospital. The events range from Penelope’s knowledge of her father’s life before the Great War, through the effects of the Second World War on Penelope herself to the mid-1980s of the book’s present.

There is a fair degree of telling rather than showing, and occasional potted biographies of minor characters when they first appear which detract from the overall flow. Pilcher’s use of dialogue tends to be fine but her prose also contains a lot of over-description (and frequent mentions of cups of tea.) Some of the title characters of the sixteen chapters make little appearance in “their” part of the narrative. Her writing is serviceable, perhaps even suited to its purpose, but not outstanding, and she has a tendency to overegg or reiterate unnecessarily aspects of the characterisation. I don’t suppose I constitute her target audience, but it did interest me enough to keep me reading. (I rarely, if ever, give up on a book, however.)

I would not be totally averse to it but don’t feel inclined to remake acquaintance with Pilcher’s work any time soon.

Time interval later count: 7.
Pedant’s corner:- “everything she had ever strived for” (striven,) “and his mother-in-law, Penelope Keeling,” (the reader already knows who his mother-in-law is,) wistaria (several times. It’s wisteria,) “drew up at the back of Podmore’s Thatch. The half-glassed front door led into a tiled porch.” (The front door is at the back?) “did use to sleep there” (did used to sleep,) Doris’ (Doris’s, which was used later, but then later again reverted to Doris’,) “two gin and oranges” (two gins and orange,) “where a variety of crushed and shredded garments were piled on the bed” (a variety of …. was piled on the bed,) “and the Army … were taking up positions” (the Army was taking up positions,) bannisters (I prefer the spelling banisters,) cache pot (cachepot,) Danus’ (Danus’s,) enormity (no. It was hugeness that was meant rather than monstrousness,) sneakers (an inappropriate word for the thoughts of an Englishwoman, who would say plimsolls or – perhaps – sandshoes,) helicopters (in mid World War 2? I don’t think so. Not Allied ones anyway,) Pointe de Hué (Pointe du Hoc, I think. There was a Port Hué but not a Pointe de Hué.) “‘And why is it always Olivia you tell things too?’” (tell things to,) histronics (histrionics,) “the congregation… rose to their feet” (the congregation …. rose to its feet,) dish washer (dishwasher – used, once, later,) “lovers lying supine, entwined,” (to be entwined wouldn’t at least one of them need to be prone? At any rate, they could not both be supine and at the same time entwined.)

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