Picks and Pans Review: Coming Home
Happily for Pilcher fans, who have had to wait five years for the British author's new saga, some 850,000 copies have just landed in bookstores. Was the anticipation worth it? Well, yes and no. Everything about Coming Home is familiar: the landscape (windswept Cornwall), the setting (wartime England), the central characters (beautiful, innocent, young people). All of which makes for an utterly undemanding, comfortable and cozy read.
Judith Dunbar and Loveday Carey-Lewis are school chums. Judith, left behind in England in 1935 when her family goes to Ceylon, where her father is stationed, allows herself to be adopted by Loveday's family, the charming, elegant and very rich Carey-Lewises. Judith falls in love with the callow and careless brother Edward Carey-Lewis, while Loveday gives her heart to Edward's Cambridge friend, Gus, a soulful Scot.
Soon, World War II intervenes. Judith joins the Women's Royal Navy Service, and she too is sent to Ceylon, while Loveday embarks on a precipitous and eventually miserable marriage. Others die in the sky or disappear at sea.
Stock-type minor characters fill out the story—a lecherous old man, devoted kitchen maids, kind aunts—one of whom bequeaths her fortune to Judith. The language, like the plot, is a clutter of clichés and cutesy Britishisms. Loveday writes to Judith, "It's so mean, meeting the only man one could ever possibly fall in love with, and then having him whisked away by beastly old Hitler. I cried buckets in bed..."
Nonetheless, the last 100 pages, where all is set right, are predictably moving. Pilcher, whose novel The Shell Seekers spent two years on bestseller lists, knows how to spin a yarn. You won't cry buckets in bed, but you won't doze off either. (St. Martin's, $25.95)
Beach Books of the Week
ANYONE WHO HAS EVER VOWED TO read a little Henry James can now read a very little Henry James. To mark its 60th anniversary, Penguin Books has issued 60 itty-bitty paperbacks, each just over 4 by 5 inches and weighing mere ounces. The Penguin '60s may be featherweight (none is longer than 96 pages), but the featured authors are heavyweights: Readers can sample short works by Dorothy Parker, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Jack London, Garrison Keillor and James, whose Daisy Miller makes an ideal literary snack that is perfect for short plane trips, long bus rides and boring sales meetings. At 95 cents each, you can buy the set and line up quirky titles like FDR's Fireside Chats alongside 60 Sonnets by Shakespeare. Small wonder these are dominating bestseller lists in England, where they were published last month. They're cute, they're classic, and they cost a buck; besides, they fit five-deep in your back pocket. Try that with the latest Tom Clancy.