The Shell Seekers

by Rosamunde Pilcher

Paperback, 2015

Call number




St. Martin's Griffin (2015), Edition: Reissue, 656 pages


Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers is "a huge warm saga...A deeply satisfying story written with love and confidence" (Maeve Binchy in The New York Times Book Review). The Shell Seekers was adapted twice to film (1989 and 2006). An instant bestseller when it was first published, The Shell Seekers is an enduring classic which has touched the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. A novel of connection, it is the story of one family�??mothers and daughters, husbands and lovers�??and of the passions and heartbreak that have held them together for three generations. This magical novel�??the kind of reading experience that comes along only once in a long while�??is the perfect read, whether you are returning to it again, or opening the cover for the first time. At the end of a long and useful life, Penelope Keeling's prized possession is The Shell Seekers, painted by her father, and symbolizing her unconventional life, from bohemian childhood to wartime romance. When her grown children learn their grandfather's work is now worth a fortune, each has an idea as to what Penelope should do. But as she recalls the passions, tragedies, and secrets of her life, she knows there is only one answer...and it lies in her… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member philippa58
Although I liked the potential of the main character, and her special daughter... I couldn't get past the story line where the mother tough loves her children...roundly and extensively criticises them and is disappointed by them...yet the period in which they would be developing into these
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unlikeable and selfish people is not covered in the novel...and there is nothing to indicate she all...what role she had in the people they became...
so very pleased I read this as a library book rather than buying it
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LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
The Shell Seekers 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,
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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 it’s 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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LibraryThing member CatherineBurkeHines
I am surprisingly unhappy with this book. It is one-dimensional, with the "bad" characters like cartoons, and the lovely "good" characters so impossibly wonderful that it's hard to accept them. I bought this as "comfort reading" but it's so annoying that I'm not sure the word "comfort" actually
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Having finished the book, I like it a bit better, but only a bit. I won't seek out another book by Pilcher.
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LibraryThing member SteveLindahl
If you open The Shell Seekers to a random page, you are most likely going to find very detailed, often beautiful, prose. Here's an example:

Olivia knew that she would never tire of the painting, even if she lived with it for most of her life. Its impact hit you like a gust of cold, salty air, The
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windy sky, racing with clouds; the sea, scudding with white-caps, breaking waves hissing up onto the shore. The subtle pinks and greys of the sand; shallow pools left by the ebbing tide and shimmering with translucent reflected sunlight. And the figures of the three children, grouped to the side of the picture; two girls with straw hats and dresses bundled up, and a boy. All brown-limbed, barefoot, and intent on the contents of a small scarlet bucket.

I loved the idea of writing about the daughter of a famous artist and her bohemian upbringing. So many books concentrate of people in positions of fame and power, but their families have stories to tell as well. I also loved having so much of the plot center around a painting which works as a metaphor for many of the family issues.

Yet, the novel didn't catch me. I was easily distracted, even at the most critical parts. Part of this was due to the descriptions, which were lovely, but too numerous. I found myself skimming descriptions of landscapes as the novel went on, especially the lists of flowers. But more than that it was the characters and a feeling that the author was intruding with her own opinions. When I was done with the book, I was left with the feeling Rosamunde Pilcher had great respect for stoicism.

The scenes of Penelope as a girl and a young woman were interesting, especially when the American troops were camped in Porthkerris. Yet Penelope's interactions with the important people in her life never seemed to have much emotion, even when she claimed to be in love. This was also true of Olivia, especially at the end of the novel, which might explain why Penelope's relation with her middle child worked.

I would recommend The Shell Seekers to readers who enjoy careful descriptions, historical settings, and a unique picture of rural England.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul
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LibraryThing member ICANABIBBELG
The Shell Seekers is a novel of connection: of one family, and of the passions and heartbreak that have held them together for three generations. The Shell Seekers is filled with real people--mothers and daughters, husband and lovers--inspired with real values. The Shell Seekers centers on Penelope
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Keeling--a woman you'll always remember in world you'll never forget. The Shell Seekers is a magical novel, the kind of reading experience that comes along only one in a long while.
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LibraryThing member LizanneVee
All time favorite airplane read. You skip a few paragraphs and you haven't missed a thing, but it is beautifully written, easy to imagine the characters and nothing to upset your sensitive little soul.
LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
the most charming book i have ever read. i wanted to move to england and live with the heroine of the novel and drink tea and garden all day!!!! the perfect family saga. lots of good characters. read this when you have alot of time to sit and enjoy!!!!
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Pilcher delivers an engrossing family saga of a British family through four generations. Mostly set in the mid-1980s, it weaves in tales going back to World War II. At the center of the tale is sixty-four year old Penelope Keeling, the daughter of a renowned painter. She possesses only one finished
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painting of his, "The Shell Seekers" which two of her three grown children covet. The eldest, the "tiresome" Nancy Chamberlain, grew up reading the likes of Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer and dreaming of being landed gentry. Now her and her husband live beyond their means in a white elephant of a house and two unbearable children she's determined to place in expensive elite schools. Noel is the baby of the family--and not just in age. All too similar to his "feckless" father he leeches off upper-class friends going from party to party. He had to be pushed out of the nest, living with his mother into his mid-twenties. Now approaching thirty, he longs for easy money and like his sister, turns greedy eyes towards the painting when he learns it could bring in a over a quarter of a million pounds. That leaves the middle child, "cool-headed" Olivia, the editor of a fashion magazine. Independent and unsentimental without the need for money of the other two, she's also the only child who genuinely cares about her mother--or that her mother cares for.

The pages really flashed by, and I enjoyed the look at life in war time Britain and the descriptions of Cornwall. However, in the end, I didn't find the book satisfying given the lack of complexity in the characters who are pretty black or white and don't grow through their experiences. Like another reviewer, I think I would have liked more in the period when Noel and Nancy grew up and developed their characters and more reflection on Penelope's part on her own role in shaping them, all the more because the way she treats and speaks of both of them is so very cold, and she can't be bothered with her grandchildren. It was the pregnancy that produced Nancy which forced Penelope into marriage and Noel greatly resembles her despised husband. Both had to have picked up early on that Olivia was very much the favored child, which couldn't have been easy for either. Indeed both Penelope and Olivia are alike in that they seem to go out of their way to not engage deeply with anyone. It made it hard to feel the sympathy and connection with either I'm sure the author intended.
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LibraryThing member dragonflydee1
I remember loving this book when it was first published years ago. I just may have to re-read it soon.
LibraryThing member BenasReads
Wonderfully detailed and honest. True family life.
LibraryThing member lesleymc
Phew...just finished reading this mammoth book, 600+ pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the story but it took a few (long) chapters to get into it but when I did it was engrossing. I have read as big if not bigger books but this one would have benefitted from being shorter. The characters were believable,
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some likable, some not so much but all evoked an emotion of some sort - product of good writing skills.

When I was reading it at the back of my mind was Angela Landsbury (in the movie) I believe meeting one of the characters (no elaboration here as I don't want to spoil the book), this didn't gel with the novel. I hate it when moviemakers think they can improve on a successful story. Would like to see the movie with Venessa Redgrave, I understand this is more true to the novel.

I would have awarded 5 stars, the story was excellent, the descriptions were very well written and beautifully descriptive but some were just too long therefore I have awarded 4 1/2 stars (can't add 1/2 star to rating). However I would still recommend this as a very good read. I am looking forward to hearing what my fellow bookclubbers make of this one.
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Enchanting. Plainly narrated and uneventful, perhaps, but impossible to put down all the same. Rosamunde Pilcher is a wonderful storyteller, crafting realistic characters and then leisurely unfolding an intimate portrait of family life. Her writing is amusing in places - I love Penelope's wry view
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of her husband: 'being married to Ambrose was rather like looking after another person's dog. Every time you open the door, it bolts for home' - but also deeply poignant and affecting. I grew to adore and admire Penelope, to the point where I was heartbroken by the inevitable ending. I might have to give Coming Home another try next!

Penelope Keeling is the daughter of Lawrence Stern, a famous Victorian artist. The only child of an creative older father and a loving French mother, she spent her bohemian childhood summers in the small seaside village of Porthkerris, Cornwall (of course - Rosamunde Pilcher's novels are always set in Cornwall). When the Second World War starts, Penelope meets Ambrose Keeling and has three children with him, Nancy, Olivia, and Noel. Olivia is career-driven and outwardly cold, but also smart, sensible and independent, just like her mother. Nancy and Noel are money-grabbing, middle class snobs, out for what they can get - Nancy to keep up appearances, Noel to fund his ego. I thoroughly detested both, the narrow focus of their petty little lives, and cheered when Penelope out-manoevured them, as I knew she would. Noel learns that his grandfather's paintings are suddenly popular - and profitable - once again, and tries to pressure Penelope into selling her father's work so that he and Nancy can reap the profits. Penelope is adamant that she will never part with The Shell Seekers, the last landscape her father painted, but Noel has his greedy eyes on two unfinished panels and a collection of sketches by the late, great artist. Family and sentiment never enter his withered heart. Yes, they verge on being pantomime villains - 1980s style - but the satisfaction when they get their comeuppance - especially Noel - is worth the lack of shading.

So much happens in this novel, zipping back and forth in time from character to character, that I cannot possibly summarise everything that happens to everyone in the book. Basically, this is the story of Penelope and her family - her parents, children, lovers, friends and the places she calls home, both in Cornwall and her lovely cottage, Podmore's Thatch - and the charm is in the detail and the honest relationships that leap from the page. Penelope is fantastic, and I wish I knew someone like her! She and her children are terribly middle class, of course, calling each other 'darling' and drinking Scotch while listening to classical music, but they all seem so real! (Apart from Antonia and Danus, who nearly made me gag, I must admit!)

A light story, though not a quick read, because the setting and the history and the characters are so richly described that getting lost in the story is a delightful way to pass the time. I defy any reader not to fall under Rosamunde Pilcher's spell.
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LibraryThing member blueclearsky
"deeply satisfying story written with love", "about the connection between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and lovers", "shifts effortlessly back and forth in time"
LibraryThing member Irene82
Loved the book! I read it last summer during my summer holidays in Holland! I liked the way she presents the characters! Definitely my favorite books from her!
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
This is the only Rosamunde Pilcher I have read. I feared it would be formulaic happy-ever-after stuff, but I have to say it surprised me by being quite a good read. Following the fortunes of the various members of a family and loosely centred around the painting that gives the book its title, there
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is something for everyone in the various strands of the story. I liked Olivia's story best. A good undemanding read with lots of content and some surprises.
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LibraryThing member reba345
A favorite and timeless classic. This was a reccomendation of my mother in laws... great storytelling.
LibraryThing member MrsLee
A massive tome about the life and disappointments of Penelope Stern Keeling, daughter of an artist. This story begins with her in her "old" (60!) age, looking back on her life, it includes the viewpoint of her self-centered and boring children, and ends with her death. I don't usually give away
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spoilers in reviews, but if I encouraged anyone to read this book I would feel guilty. There is no endearing character in this book. Penelope is an ice statue, despite we are told she isn't. The one child we are (I think) meant to respect or admire is also an ice princess. I found nothing redeeming about this story. I have adored other works by Pilcher, she is a master at descriptive writing and usually subtle and delightful with her characters, but this story fell flat for me.
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LibraryThing member alanna1122
Some how I read every other Pilcher book before reading The Shell Seekers (and September).

I enjoyed it over all but given the fact that it is her most famous book - I expected more of it... in the end Coming Home is still my favorite of all her novels.

I would have enjoyed it more if the chapter
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on Richard had been edited down. I found the parts that were set in the WWII time frame (flashbacks) dragged quite a bit and I was always very very eager to get back to the current time storyline.

I thought it was a good diverting read - but not one of my favorites.
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LibraryThing member MarthaLillie
This was a wonderful book which I read before my own first trip to Scotland. It really was a romantic novel in the true sense of the word.
LibraryThing member LibraryLou
This is a real comfort read, one to pick up on a sunny day at the beach, or a cosy afternoon.
LibraryThing member wendyrey
Well I've got 60 pages in and retired defeated with boredom and better things to read. I think I will have another go in a few weeks to try for 200 pages.
A dreadfully dull family saga type book.
LibraryThing member BoundTogetherForGood
I loved this book. It's my second of Pilcher's books. I will read more.
LibraryThing member bookfest
This was a fairly insipid family saga that spanned from just before WWII to contemporary times. Each chapter focused on a particular character, with the chapters typically jumping back and forth through time. The main character is Penelope, who we meet at 64 (and she is weirdly referred to as
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elderly! Really?). Her three children are all horribly selfish and two are greedy, out to grab the precious painting that Penelope's artist father had given her as a wedding gift. I often found myself skimming the long descriptive passages of gardens and seashores.
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LibraryThing member jarvenpa
Pilcher is lovely. Her books are dense with complicated relationships, complex people, and vivid writing. You can almost taste the tea and smell the rainwashed flowers.
LibraryThing member Arubaborn
My very favorite book.




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