As a writer, I’m a voracious reader. And like many fellow book lovers, I have a shelf in my personal library reserved for my “keepers,” those most treasured, life-changing books. Among these are Shogun, by James Clavell, which reflects my Japanese studies. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy was my baptism to low-country books. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has the best opening paragraphs in literature—they establish the protagonist’s voice, introduce the primary characters, and raise the novel’s main story question.
My go-to novel for pure pleasure, however, a book read so often the pages are dog-eared, is The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. A number-one bestseller when it was released in 1987, the novel focuses on Penelope Stern Keeling, an elderly British woman who returns home from the hospital after a heart attack. She relives her life through flashbacks from her point of view and those of her three children. What I love most is that Penelope Keeling’s life is not extraordinary, but it spans “a time of huge importance and change in the world”—World War II and the post-war years. Yet the novel is not about great battles or heroics, but how everyday people deal with everyday hardships and joys. Pilcher excels in the universal, describing the details of life that we all relate to—and she does it in such a charming manner. She spins a web with dialogue so fresh and natural that we are unaware we are learning important facts that move the story forward. Dialogue is supposed to do this in novels, but few writers succeed as well as Pilcher.
Finally, Rosamunde Pilcher has that elusive quality we call “voice” in writing. Someone could read a paragraph of her book aloud and we could recognize it as Pilcher. This quality can neither be taught nor imitated.
Writers come and go with new generations. Young readers today might not know Rosamunde Pilcher. But her books remain as timeless as the classics. I treasure all her books, but The Shell Seekers is her masterpiece. Do yourself a favor: pick up a copy and savor every word.
Mary Alice Monroe is the award-winning and bestselling author of nearly twenty novels, including her latest bestseller, The Summer’s End.