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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Sea Glass
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on 31 March 2002
Anita Shreve is one of my favourite writers. She writes books that are beautifully constructed with lyrical prose that carries the reader along.
In this new novel Shreve takes the setting from two of her previous books, Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife. The period in time of this book falls betweens that of these previous two books. The story is told from the viewpoint of numerous characters which span the social classes in the town of Ely Falls.
The story centres on two characters, Honora and Sexton Beecher who are newlyweds. They move to the town of Ely Falls where they buy a house. Unfortunately events take a turn for the worse and they are financially ruined. Sexton is forced to take a job at the local mill where workers like McDermott, another character who tells the story, are setting up a union and attempting to fight for the rights of workers. It is a story that raises interesting moral issues from this period in history, child labour and the oppression of manual workers. This is juxtaposed with Vivian's story, a young society girl in a privileged position.
This is another wonderful story from a fantastic writer who never fails to maintain reader interest.
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on 1 September 2017
Not quite as convincing as others in this series, but still outstanding.
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on 12 August 2017
A variety of characters give a rounded picture of a specific location and time in US social history. Well written
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on 26 March 2003
Sea Glass is partly set in Fortune's Rocks again, and interweaves the famous house from that book and The Pilot's Wife, which adds interest for her readers. I did like this book, but not as much as the other two I mentioned. Hence, the 4 stars. I was interested in the rise of unionism, and the desire for improved working conditions and pay in the factory. However, I felt some of the lesser characters were a bit too similar.
The use of the collection of sea glass added to the atmosphere of the book, and felt like Anita Shreve territory. I do recommend it - but if it's your first Anita Shreve....then I recommend Fortune's Rocks more.
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on 27 December 2007
Shreve writes elegant and restrained prose, but under the surface, there are deep emotions at work. The story line sounds like a plot from one of those genre novels beloved by little old ladies who take them out from libraries in little wheeled trollies - you know the type, they have a cover picture of a girl in a shawl with her arms crossed, and she's called Maggie, or Sarah, or Nelly, and she fights through hard times to attract the son of the mill owner ...

This is the antithesis of one of those books. The characterisation is subtle, and finely drawn. The plot moves gently but inexorably through peaks and troughs. The interlacing stories meld naturally together, and for readers of her previous novels, returning to Fortune's Rocks feels like returning to a favourite place - although one that changes, and isn't frozen in time.

I also felt I learned a lot about manufacturing in New England at the time. It seems cotton didn't only tyrannise the South.
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on 12 June 2002
Anita Shreve weaves a wonderful plot and captures you with her poetic prose from the very first page. Franco-Americans, child labour, poverty, The Great Depression and union movements all feature in this novel. Honora, the heroine, collects sea glass washed up on the beach but her husband, Sexton, describes it as "other people's trash". Yet to Honora, the smoothly rounded edges and pearly hues of the glass are exquisite. They symbolise Honora's escape from their rocky marriage and the gloom of The Great Depression. Perhaps they even represent a glint of hope found in the ruins of the heady days of The Prohibition? The novel weaves strong characters into the story: Alphonse, a Franco-American child from the mills, McDermott his kindly benefactor and Vivien, Honora and Sexton's privileged neighbour. Honora's mother writes to her daughter in short, succinct letters, yet her maternal tenderness and concern are so cleverly revealed.
Having read "The Last Time We Met", I wondered how Anita Shreve would match the ending in Sea Glass. All I can say is that it is poignantly perfect!
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on 5 December 2006
This is the most enjoyable of the more historical Shreve books I have read. Also it is set in the same place as Fortune's Rocks - the main characters live in a house formerly owned by the main people in that previous novel - which is lovely to recognise parts even though the stories and characters are unrelated. Also there is a side story in another Shreve Book - A Wedding in December - which although being set in more modern times features a character fascinated about an event which occured in Halifax harbour in the past. The same event appears in this book in the history of Honora's Uncle. It was another small part which you would not miss if this is the first Shreve book you have read - but it really added to my enjoyment of the book recognising places and events. Excellent story - wonderful characters - un-putdownable!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 April 2014
Shreve returns in this novel to the house in Ely Falls where Olympia Biddeford lived in 'Fortune's Rocks'. Thirty years and more have passed, Olympia and John have gone (where to we never know - surely the likelihood would be that Olympia at least would still be alive?) and the house is now being rented by Sexton Beecher, a travelling typewriter salesman, and his young bride Honora, a former bank teller who married out of a desperation to escape her dull working life. It seems implausible that someone like Sexton should be able to rent a house described in 'Fortune's Rocks' as huge, but he not only does this, but decides with the help of a hefty mortgage to buy it. Unfortunately the year is 1929, Wall Street crashes just after Sexton's taken on the mortgage, and the couple are soon in serious trouble, particularly as Sexton loses his job. (This isn't a spoiler, we learn it fairly early on). For Honora, the Crash is both bad news (she realizes that she doesn't actually like her husband all that much, and she's desperately short of money) and good (rather than spend her days wandering the beach gathering sea glass as before, she befriends Vivien, a socialite playwright living nearby, and devotes herself to economizing on household things). Sexton eventually gets a job working at the Ely Fall Mills (which Shreve described in great detail in 'Fortune's Rocks'). Conditions are as awful in the mills as they were in that novel, and Sexton is soon part of a group of men planning to strike in protest. The strike brings Honora great joy - particularly in her friendship with Alphonse, a French boy working in the mills, and in her growing closeness to Quillen McDermott, a heroic and plain-speaking factory worker - but also shows her quite how unreliable Sexton is, and leads her and those closest to her into terrible danger...

As always, Shreve's research is immaculate, and she gives a powerful sense of the euphoria at the start of the strike, and the growing anxieties as things go less and less the men's way. However, I found the characters in this book harder to warm to than any in Shreve's other novels (apart from 'All He Ever Wanted', which I didn't enjoy hugely). Honora is rather bland and two-dimensional and I found it hard to understand both what drew her and McDermott together, and why she married Sexton, who was clearly a nasty piece of work. Vivien was a caricature of the 'brilliant socialite with a heart of gold', and Shreve never explained how she got into playwriting, not common for a woman of this background. With the exceptions of McDermott, Alphonse and the Communist Louis, all the mill hands tended to blur rather into one. Alphonse and McDermott were excellent creations, and I really warmed to them and wanted to read more about their friendship - but Shreve's rapid shift between narrators meant we never got quite enough of either of them. The novel also suffered from an extremely leisurely beginning (scene after scene of Honora wandering the beach or baking, and rambling conversations between her and Sexton) which meant that the whole Honora/McDermott side of the plot felt a bit rushed.

There is a lot to enjoy in this book, but somehow I couldn't get involved with most of the characters (particularly the women) in the same way that I did with 'Fortune's Rocks'. Ultimately, despite the drama of the mill strike, I found the book as a whole slightly boring. Still, definitely worth a read (it's quite a quick one), particularly for big Shreve fans.
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on 3 February 2009
I love Anita Shreve - her work is unique amongst novelists in that while I'm reading her books real time seems to stand still. I find myself so locked up in her made-up world that I lose sense of where I am and everything going on around me becomes muted white noise. I don't think another author has ever delivered that depth of escapism for me.

This book was a gift and I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as 'The Pilot's Wife' and some of Shreve's other books that I'd read and loved, but in fact it was superbly written and full of interest, especially the workers' rights aspect and the link of the house to the present day in her other works. She is a craftsman in her field - not to be mistaken with so many other novelists churning out period pap for the masses.
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on 25 August 2002
Delicious, sad book. Its refrain, the sea glass picked up by protagonist Honora and others, reminds of a nice folk story - unlikely to be well known in the UK - that seems pertinent to me. Here it is.
In Neapolitan tradition - in fact, also in a song and in Indian folklore - the sea lays on the shore "'e pazzielle", the little mad things ("crazelettes"?), which are a metaphor for the little things of everyday life, that give people their memory and their symbolisms. They mean life for those picking them, but cannot compete with the big swells - the forces of history - which ultimately take charge on people's lives, so the crazelettes are washed away and get forgotten.
The book's story, and the book itself, are just like that. Had Shreve not written it, few would have known of the Honoras and McDermotts of the 1930s. Swept by the Great Depression, the strikes, the thugs, they would lie unknown. And reading the book is like picking sea glass. Of course, the beauty of it is in the eye of the beholder - not all reviews on the US Amazon site are favorable - but my own eye certainly beheld it. I advise trying.
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