Every Spring I take out one book to read. And have every Spring since 1993 when I first found it. I own several copies. My ‘reading copy’ is hard back. I keep a paperback just to have it. And I keep several spares to put into people’s hands when they’re looking for something to read. I’ve lost track of how many I’ve given away. I get them when I can find them in good condition – mostly at Half Price Books (for half cover price) or at Friends of the Library (usually for fifty cents).
The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher, is my favorite book, hands down. This Wikipedia article doesn’t do it (or her) justice. With very few exceptions, I have all of her books. The ones I don’t have are the ten she published as Jane Fraser and a collection of picture books, the omnibus collections, stuff like that.
The Shell Seekers has sold more than five million copies worldwide, and for me, it’s simple enough to understand how and why. The story takes place in two times – World War II and in the mid-80s. The largest sections are told in flashback as Penelope Stern remembers her life. And it may sound sappy, but I have a hard time thinking about the story without getting all teary-eyed.
Pilcher has a way with words that puts her readers into the story. As I read along, I forget I’m reading. I’m right there on the beach feeling the baking sun and breathing the salt air – or standing in the drenching rain. I can hear the chickens out in the yard, see the clothes billowing on the breeze on the clothesline, smell the flowers growing along the hedge. Her characterizations are so rich that I feel I know her characters well enough to go home with them. I always want to hold them when they’re hurting, laugh with them when they’re laughing.
Preston always questions me whenever I pick up the book to read it. “Again? Really?” Because he knows I’m going to end up a blubbering mess long before I get to the end of the prologue.
The Shell Seekers is written in sixteen chapters, each centering on a specific person — either telling their side of the story or their part/place in it. I know these people, this story, as well as I know my own. That might be off-putting to a lot of people. Not to me. As heartbreaking as this story is, it’s also heartwarming. It’s a sensory-read. It makes me think.
And this is only part of why I come back to it every Spring. It’s difficult to put into words, honestly.
In the world where Penelope had lived, existed, breathed, listened, remembered, it had been possible to believe that nothing too dreadful could ever go wrong. Or if it did…and to Penelope it had…then there were ways of coping, of accepting, of refusing to admit defeat. […] Existence without that source of constant delight, that rocklike security was unthinkable.
She remembered him smiling, and realized that time, that great old healer, had finally accomplished its work, and now, across the years, the face of love no longer stirred up agonies of grief and bitterness. Rather, one was left feeling simply grateful. For how unimaginably empty the past would be without him to remember.