I was at the supper table with my mum and step-dad, going through The Big Reads, when my mum recommended Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, insisting I would enjoy it. I looked it up on Amazon but was immediatly put off by the dated front cover which resembled something like a Mills & Boon novel.
Thus it wasn’t until a couple of months later when I was trawling the shelves of a charity shop in nearby Wallingford that I came across it again, and, having just finished a book, I bought it.
The Shell Seekers is a rare kind of book – published in 1987, this beautifully written family saga has a nostalgic temperament that draws you in, regardless of your age. Spanning two time frames and set against wonderfully British backdrops of Cornwall’s beautiful beaches, bustling London and the solitude of the Cotswolds, the novel follows Penelope Keeling from childhood to the present day as a woman in her sixties with grown up children. The houses in which much of the book is set; her childhood home in Cornwall, Podmore Thatch, the bohemian Oakley Street in London and finally Carn Cottage in Gloucester, form the heart of the book, with Agas, dinner parties and bottles of wine creating a homely and traditional tone that is prominent throughout the text.
With its simple premise and personable characters, this is a truly heart-warming book that has the ability to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers. The 600 pages fly by and the bittersweet conclusion is as flawless as the rest of the novel. To me, The Shell Seekers is the perfect escape; it transports you to days gone by and is the the ideal companion to a weekend in the country with log fires and cups of tea a-plenty.
In amongst The BBC Top 100‘s Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Dumas is the creme de la creme of chick lit; the bible for modern-day singletons living in London – the literary masterpiece that is Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Indeed, seven years before Renee Zellwegger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant starred in the film, came the fabulous book, penned by journalist Helen Fielding, around whom there was much speculation over whether Jones was in fact based on Fielding herself. The book began in 1995 as a series of columns written by Fielding in The Independent, when the writer was working as a journalist in London. And while Fielding initially thought the series would be binned by the left editors of the newspaper, the fictional character of Bridget Jones soon become a modern-day phenomenon.
Much of Bridget Jones’s Diary focuses on Bridget’s somewhat tempestuous love life and her division of society into one of two categories; the singletons and the ‘Smug Marrieds’. Written in the style of a diary, the course of the novel sees Bridget become involved with two very different men – the charming and dangerous Daniel Cleaver, and the somewhat less exciting Mark Darcy. We are also privy to musings on Bridget’s weight, her career and her frequent over-indulging in both fags and booze, issues which continue to resonate with a contemporary audience, fifteen years on from the book’s first publication. Written with warmth and wit, Fielding’s tale is the timeless kind that will resonate with women all over the world, irrelevant of age, background or taste in men.
While I’m rarely an advocate for films based on books, the combination of Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth was nothing short of brilliant and they perfectly captured a tale that will be well loved for decades to come.
I have a fairly addictive personality when it comes to most things in life – I can never have just one chocolate biscuit, if I find a pair of jeans that fit (a rarity), I buy them in three colours, when I hear a song I like for the first time, I have it on repeat for at least a week. The same applies to my reading method. If I find a writer I like, I’ll read everything they’ve had published. It started with Enid Blyton, before progressing to Ann M Martin and Francine Pascal (of The Babysitter Club and Sweet Valley High fame respectively) through to Shakespeare, Joanne Harris and Oscar Wilde. And as this type of reader, there is nothing quite so frustrating as finding a book you love, only to discover it’s the sole publication by the author.
Which is precisely how I felt having finished The Thirteenth Tale by former teacher Diane Setterfield.
The novel tells the story of biographer Margaret Lea, daughter of an antiquarian book dealer, who is asked to complete the last wish of gravely ill novelist Vida Winter by penning her biography. Wanting to find out more about a woman whose books she has never read, Margaret finds a copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which, confusingly, contains just twelve stories. And so, intrigued, she fulfills Vida’s final request and in doing so becomes immersed in a tangled and troubling history, forcing her to confront ghosts of her own.
The Thirteenth Tale is a composition of much that I love about reading – a gothic undertone with Victorian sensibility, themes of identity and a gripping plot. The perfect tale for book lovers far and wide, The Thirteenth Tale will undoubtedly reawaken a love of books in all those who read it.