Fiction – paperback; Abacus; 368 pages; 2002.
Sea Glass was the first book by Anita Shreve I’ve ever read. I wasn’t sure what to expect; maybe something like a New England version of Maeve Binchy. (Not that Maeve Binchy is bad, mind, it’s just that sometimes her novels are cloying, overly sentimental and hackneyed, and you have to be in the right mood to read them.) I was surprised, then, to find that this book was not only enjoyable and thoroughly readable, but it was also quite well-researched, and, dare I say it, literary.
It’s set in 1929, a short time before the huge stock market crash which plunged America and, indeed, the rest of the world into a gut-wrenching economic depression.
A young bride, Honora, makes a home in an abandoned house by the sea with her new husband, Sexton, a travelling typewriter salesman. At first things are if not idyllic then at least happy and reasonably comfortable. But the first flush of love soon dissipates when Sexton loses his job and takes up a lowly-paid position at a nearby woollen mill, where conditions are difficult and dangerous. When the workers retaliate by taking industrial action (unheard of at the time), Honora, provides support, shelter and food for those involved in the strike, while her marriage slowly crumbles around her.
It’s a simple tale but it’s very well told. There’s an emotional resonance which can be difficult to achieve without resorting to cliche and stereotypes, something Shreve never does.
Shreve also fills her novel with rich historical detail that makes the era come alive. And her characters, which take it in turn to tell their version of the story chapter by chapter are sharply drawn and very believable.
I read this book at a very fast rate of knots, wondering what was going to happen next. If the rest of Shreve’s novels are as entertaining as this one, then she had definitely won a new fan. But which of her other eight or so novels to read next . . . ?