01/01/1998

Rosamunde Pilcher

'Rosamunde Pilcher, where have you been all my life?'

So reads the review from the New York Times on the back of some of this author's books. This sums up my feelings exactly.

I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher about four years ago. I had seen one or two of her books in book shops, and been tempted. But I rarely buy new books without being certain that they are worth the high prices. However when I found her saga 'The Shell-Seekers' in a thrift store for a few pence, I snapped it up.

Once I started reading, I was hooked. Unlike the average romantic novel, the story opens with Penelope, an elderly lady, recovering from a mild heart attack. The first section of the book is written from her perspective, introducing the reader to her grown-up children, her frustrations as a mother, and her love of art. Subsequent sections are written from the point of view of various other characters - although all in the third person - and we gradually learn more about Penelope's life and loves. The book is set in England, much of it in a seaside resort of Cornwall; I have never been to this county, yet the setting is so well described that I felt that I had walked the paths and seen the beaches.

The climax of the book is shocking, although not entirely unexpected, and breaks one of the main rules of fiction writing. Yet the shock is redeemed as the family pick up the pieces, and the ending is both realistic and forward-looking. Finishing the book feels like saying goodbye to some wonderful friends, so realistic are the characters and situations.

After this, I searched all the second-hand and charity/thrift shops I could find. Eventually I had the entire collection of Rosamunde Pilcher books - all too few, unfortunately, although she is still writing, and has just brought out a new novel, the first in many years, which I look forward to reading one day.

There are now four 'saga' novels: as well as 'Shell Seekers', there is the book 'September' which revolves around a huge birthday celebration in Scotland, and all the people involved. The plots and sub-plots are brilliantly interwoven, and emotions run high. Again the ending is satisfactory, and another shocking climax is explained and becomes understandable in the context.

'Coming Home' is the third saga, this one set in the mid 20th century war years. Judith, who is introduced as a young schoolgirl, goes to stay with a relative when her family move abroad. We suffer with her as she quickly becomes independent, learns to deal with men and adult relationships, falls in love, moves around the world, and finally discovers a home where she can put down roots. The most recent saga, 'Winter Solstice', was published in hardback in 2000 and follows the life of Elfrida, an elderly woman who has retired in a small village in Hampshire.

In addition to these are several shorter romantic novels, a little predictable in their endings, yet the characters seem like people we could meet every day, the conversations could be overheard as we pass them. The plots have unexpected twists and turns before we reach the end - which is always satisfactory and looks forward hopefully to the future.

Finally there are two books of short stories, most of which appeared originally in women's magazines. I am not really a fan of short stories, but Rosamunde Pilcher's are the exception. In a few pages, we have met and got to know her people and their settings, empathised with them in their problems or emotions, and are delighted to find them resolved. She does not leave the endings to chance, or make us feel cheated. There may not be dramatic resolutions, yet each person learns a little, changes a little, sees something from another perspective.

I have read all these books at least twice. The saga novels in particular have more to offer each time they are read. When it is no longer urgent to find out 'what happens', there is more time to read slowly the descriptions, see and hear the characters, join in with their hopes and worries. For anyone wanting to find out a little more about the English way of life of the upper middle classes in the middle to late 20th century, I can do no better than to recommend this highly readable author.

Short stories:
The Blue Bedroom and other stories
Flowers in the Rain and other stories

Sagas:
The Shell Seekers
September
Coming Home
Winter Solstice

Shorter novels:
The Day of the Storm
Another View
Sleeping Tiger
Wild Mountain Thyme
End of Summer
The Empty House
The Carousel
Under Gemini
Snow in April
Voices in Summer

Collections:
The Rosamunde Pilcher Collection (Day of the Storm, Another View, Sleeping Tiger)
The Rosamunde Pilcher Collection II (Wild Mountain Thyme, Empty House, End of Summer)
The Rosamunde Pilcher Collection III

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