Rosamunde Pilcher is one of my favorite authors. I discovered her novels when a blog friend recommended Coming home on my Spanish blog. I took that book out from the public library and I felt absolutely delighted after finishing it. Since then I have been buying her novels in secondhand book shops and I have a little collection, but I only allow myself to read one book per year because I don’t want to finish my reserves of her novels in case someday I really need them.
“The shell seekers” is a picture that Lawrence Stern painted a long time ago. Now Penelope, his daughter, has the picture in her sitting room and she looks at it every time she needs to remember the past.
Penelope is 64 and she has just recovered from a heart attack. Now she feels good again and all she wants to do is get on with her life, working in her greenhouse and preparing wonderful meals for the neighbors and friends who often visit her.
She has three children, but in some way she feels she has done something wrong because she doesn’t get on with the three of them. Nancy, the eldest, is a housewife that is only worried about money because she always tries to appear as if she has more money than she actually has and, as a result, she is living beyond her means. Noel, the youngest, is very similar to Nancy: a boy who tries to relate to rich people – he has had a lot of girlfriends who invite him to spend wonderful high class weekends, and that is what he really likes: luxury. Both, Nancy and Noel, want always more, and they are planning to talk to their mother and convince her to sell the pictures of Lawrence Sterne she keeps, now that his pictures have revalued, and give them the money. The other daughter, Olivia, is a businesswoman, very independent but the only one who really cares about Penelope, about what her mother really needs. But Olivia doesn’t have enough time to spend with her because she hardly finds time for herself although, at least, she doesn’t conspire to sell things she doesn’t own – she just takes what life gives to her and doesn’t need to look for more.
And between phone calls, strange visits from Nancy and Noel, and hard work in the garden, Penelope remembers her days in Cornwell, when her parents were still alive and World War II was just beginning. In that time, they lived in a big house in Porthkerris during the summer and in their London house during the winter months, but they decided to stay in Porthkerris when the London Blitz started. There were losses, but they also made new and lasting friendships and Penelope doesn’t look back with sorrow, but remembering good times and friends, despite the rationing and shortage and all the difficulties she had to live with.
Pilcher’s novels always make me think they have real people inside the stories, not just characters. They are stories to read slowly, with a lot of descriptions about the characters’ thoughts and relations. You can feel you are at home with Penelope, as the guests the government sent to Porhkerris during the war felt too in her house, and you feel very sorry for Nancy and Noel when you know them a little and see their behavior with their mother, only thinking of their own interests.
Those people transferred and accommodated in other people’s houses during World War II always struck me; I can’t imagine being forced to live with strangers in my own house and beginning to share life with them. But people just accepted it as a normal thing to do in war time and tried to go on with their lives as they always had done, and Pilcher gives us an example of that period of time with Penelope and her parents.
It’s a story about happiness; what it means for everyone: how Penelope enjoys simple things like taking care of her flowers or writing letters to her friends, and how her children are always dissatisfied with their lives. Penelope finds her friends closer than her own family and, in fact, these friends are the ones who really love and support her.
In Spain, people who haven’t read any of Pilcher’s books think that they are romantic novels. I don’t know exactly why, but I suppose it is because of the covers, which are very similar to the ones by other romance authors, so when somebody reads her books for the first time they are very surprised; that’s what happened to me with Coming home and, since then, I have this author as one of my favorites.
It was hard to say goodbye to Penelope.
My Spanish review here