review: the shell seekers

Every Spring, I re-read Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers. I’m late reading it this year, and have spent the last week with it. I first read this book in 1993, when I found it in a used bookstore in Richmond. I let a friend borrow it and never saw it again. Then, I found another copy several years later in what we called “The Junk Store” down in Bob’s Creek (Harlan County). Now, I have a hardback copy and a paperback copy. I’ve given several paperback copies to friends and relatives.

Ros is from Scotland and writes about places she knows. When you read what she’s written about Cornwall, you want to sheild your eyes from the blazing sun, you can smell the sea in the air, you can hear the birds. The people she writes about, you feel like you could meet them on the street and be invited home for tea – especially, and particularly, if it was Penelope.

On page 478 of the first edition hardback:

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.

That’s pure Penelope in a nutshell.

This whole book is like that, all 530 pages. And every time I read it, the same certain passages always bring tears to my eyes or make me laugh out loud, and the same certain passages make me have to close the book while I sit and weep – not cry, not bawl, weep. Reading this book a box of facial tissue handy is a requirement. But yeah, when I get to certain parts, I just lose it; when I start sniffing, if he’s around, Preston rolls his eyes and passes the tissue box.

He asked me once, why, if this book makes me fall apart like this, I read it, why I have to read it. It’s beautiful. The story is beautiful, heart-warming. The characters are like real people, like someone you should know and wish you did know. But he’s right. If it tears me up so much, why pull it off the shelf, why give it to people, telling them, “You must read this!” That’s harder to explain. The parts that tear me in two, they’re so real, they touch some deep part of me that very few things and people ever have. Too, after it’s all over, after book is back on the “Pilcher Shelf”, I feel like I’ve been cleansed. (I don’t know how anybody could weep so deeply like that over the course of a week and not be cleansed!)

He’ll come home, see what’s in my hands, and fake turning around and leaving. With much rolling of eyes, he’ll say, “Oh good god, it’s that book again.”

I’ll say, “Yes, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do this to myself.”

And he’ll nod and say, “I’ll go get you another box of Kleenex.”

“Thank you.”

But it’s not so much the plot (but it is; a book’s nothing without a solid plot) as it is the characters driving the plot. Like I said before, Ros breathes real life into her characters. You get to know them as well as you know yourself, or at least as well as you know your best friend. Her characterizations, her descriptions, everything, it draws you in, and next thing you know, you’re emotionally invested in what you’re reading.

I have all of Ros’ books, with the exception of a very few older ones that I’ve not been able to find. Her son, Robin, writes, as well, and I have his first two books in paperback; I’m waiting for his third to be released in paperback. He’s good and similar in style to his mother, but he’ll never replace her in my heart. Ros is special, and it shines through in her writing, I think.

Her books very well could be classified as “romantic fiction”, but you won’t find them in the fiction aisle – they’re on the shelves with the “straight fiction”. I say that I don’t like romantic fiction, and I don’t; its predictibility, its cookie-cutter plots, bore me to death. Ros’ writing isn’t like that. To classify Ros as a writer of romantic fiction would be a disservice to both Ros and her writing. Her books are, as I said before, character driven. They’re very much character studies, studies in human nature (even her short stories). They’re deep, they’re involved, they make you think, and they make you feel.

And now that I’ve said that, I’m getting down the brown betty, brewing up some Earl Grey, and finishing this book – I have fifty pages left. I just hope I have enough facial tissues!