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5 Books like The Shell Seekers: Bohemian Dreams

Mandy Baldwin itcherThere’s no denying that there’s a special place in most hearts for the wilder places of the British Isles. These are places where childhood sensations are strongest: skin turned blue by icy waves, hot pasties, and scrumpy, rugged stone cottages overlooking seas which go on forever. Books like ‘The Shell Seekers’, ‘Echoes’ or ‘Promises, Promises’, seem comfortably familiar because they call to something old and timeless in our memories. ~ Mandy Baldwin

You Always Take the Weather with You

The seaside: where anything can happen… where livelihood falls from the sky and painters can pay their rent.

Tight-knit communities and long memories form a background for Rosamund Pilcher’s 1987 endearing classic of lost love and artistic heritage.  

And, if at times you want to shake the elderly heroine and tell her that the only people who don’t care about money are those like her who have never lacked it, try to look past her to the wonderful descriptions of war-time Cornwall.

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Books Similar to ‘The Shell Seekers’…

‘And All Shall Be Well’ (E. M. Phillips, 2014)

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This is the first of a trilogy about a Cornish artist from eccentric childhood to successful adulthood and it is utterly delightful.  

The story of a young, orphaned boy brought up by an elderly spinster and an even older priest who is best described as ‘turbulent’, this is really a book like no other.

Every page is full of easy humour and natural pathos. The sheer hilarity of the teenage Francis being taught the ‘facts of life’ by this odd couple must be read to be experienced. The book digs deep into drama as the boy grows up and finds work as an interpreter at a newly liberated Nazi death camp where he falls in love with a survivor.  

Francis is always drawn back to the unchained beauty of Cornwall. But despite the writer’s obvious love of the region, this is no parochial drama.

Similarity Match: 90%
As with ‘The Shell Seekers’, this shows artistic Bohemians continually drawn back to their roots, but the ‘Holocaust connection’ overshadows the peaceful beauty.

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‘Echoes’ (Maeve Binchey, 1985)

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This is set in Castlebay, Ireland, in the 1950s – a seaside town where real life happens when the tourists go home.

A local boy and girl divided by class call their dreams into a magic cave and hear the echoes which say their dreams will come true.  

They meet again at university in Dublin, each hoping that they can build a new life away from Castlebay. But events draw them back, and they will have to play out a private drama of betrayal before finding a compromise between love and ambition.  

Family relationships and mutual snobbery between different classes in this small community are beautifully explored, along with some trenchant comments about the religious constraints of the time.

Similarity Match: 85%
Another affectionate depiction of a community which appears privileged, but hides private tensions.

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‘Harnessing Peacocks’ (Mary Wesley, 1985)

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This was Wesley’s third novel, published when she was seventy-five years old.

Pregnant young Hebe runs away to Cornwall when she discovers her family intend to force her to have an abortion. There, she brings up her son by working as a cook to rich elderly people and supplements her income with part-time prostitution.  

She is rejected by her family when they discover her lifestyle, but she comforts herself that her son, happy at a private school, doesn’t know how she earns the fees to pay for his education.

Life suddenly becomes more complicated when a past client wants to marry her, and she is tracked down by the father of her son.

A book like this is a surprise for all those who think that life in the West Country is cosy, or that elderly ladies only write sedate mysteries. The only mystery here is: why did Mary Wesley keep her wonderful adult prose to herself until she was seventy-two?

Similarity Match: 80%
Another Cornish single mother doing her best to provide for her children, but Hebe has no long-lost lover to dream of.

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If You Like ‘The Shell Seekers’, You Will Like…

A book like ‘The Shell Seekers’ is full of gentle charm, but these recommendations show that eccentricity isn’t all fun and games, and beautiful surroundings can provide a backdrop to some very unattractive secrets and lies.

The characters in these books enjoy the tranquility of a close community without conforming to acceptable standards of behaviour.

‘The Camomile Lawn’ (Mary Wesley, 1984)

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What is it about heatwaves just before the outbreak of a World War? Is it just that there’s a special poignancy in the last gaudy fling before the darkness?

Set in Cornwall during the heatwave of August 1939, ‘The Camomile Lawn’ tells the story of five cousins and the annual ritual of their holiday at their aunt’s house on the cliff, where they played games on the fragrant lawn which gives the book it’s name.

This is their last summer of innocence in many ways, exhilarating and terrifying as the world slides towards crisis.

By recalling memories of the easy days of growing up together, they manage to retain a small pocket of joy and colour in a world which is determined to be grey.

This was a first novel and it shows in the raw dialogue and a strange lack of polish. But the flawed characters of the cousins become more endearing as their comfortable life is ripped from under them.

Upper middle class Bohemians enjoying the freedom of their surroundings, but with a strong sense of innocent friendship betrayed.

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‘Promises, Promises’ (Patricia Scanlan, 2015)

Fantastic Fiction

This novel is an added scandal in an already scandalous family who live in a small village where scandal is not appreciated.  

‘Promises, Promises’ covers ten years in the lives of four women who tangle with a dedicated heart-breaker and manage to triumph over what could be his absolute destruction of their close relationship.

At first glance, this is not a book a man would take to, unless he wanted to know what was going on in the heads of the women around him. But I defy any woman to read it and not recognise herself or her friends: anyone who has ever loved someone their friends warned them about will find themselves laughing as they realise he really was someone better to have loved and lost.

Witty, wonderful stuff that manages to push the boundaries without ever slipping into parody.

A story of the entanglements of a warm family with hot secrets, but told without Pilcher’s famous sentimentality.

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The Great Escape

Love comes easier where waves crash and seagulls cry, but when the tourists have left for the winter, the locals lead a very different kind of life.  

Be warned: there is nothing uncomplicated about simplicity. If you dream of drama that is sun-tanned and wind-blown maybe it’s safer to get your fix through the pages of a good book.

Do you like to be beside the seaside? Please share your comments below.

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