The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher is a plot-driven family saga centered around Penelope Sterne, daughter of an artist and mother of three unlikable adult children (well, two are outright unlikable; one is supposed to be admirable but is singularly off-putting). Penelope, now 64 and suffering from a weak ticker, putters in her English garden, ponders her past, and considers how and when to dispose of the few of her father’s now-valuable art works in her possession.
The story moves right along at a bracing clip, through lengthy detours into Penelope’s childhood in Cornwall, Britain’s WWII home front, and the younger daughter’s sojourn in Ibiza. It is an enjoyable read, well-deserving of its decades of popularity.
Only in retrospect does the novel disappoint. The main weakness is a lack of character development. The characters spring fully-formed onto the page. The “good” people are all generous, hard-working, independent, and bluntly forthright. (They are also startlingly unsentimental.) The “bad” folks are greedy, vain, self-centered, and silly. None of them change, either individually or in relation to the others. When the narrative reaches its chronologically natural ending, resolution of the various threads is brusquely efficient, but not convincing or satisfying.
Overall, it is an entertaining but unfulfilling read.
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The Shell Seekers is on the BBC's Big Read list.