This book is for women. Men would get a great deal from it, but it is written for women. It’s a series of essays Ms. Lindbergh – a woman with a husband and five children – wrote while spending time alone at her island home.
She is alone there, by choice, and contemplates not only her life, but the situation of woman. We lose our center, she says. We approach the world from the periphery – children, husband, house, community, church, etc. – when we should be getting our core being centered and balanced.
This is not a new thought now, but it may have been in 1955, when she wrote it: Take time for yourself first so you are better able to take care of others in your life. This is true for men as well, but we are the ones who always try to take care of others first and we usually wear more hats than men do. But to find your center again requires solitude, if only for an hour every day, and because we don’t see that as an immediate need, we don’t do it.
Ms. Lindbergh talks about the different phases of our lives, especially marriage. It starts off all rainbows and sunshine, there’s no one in the world but you and your beloved. And then the real world shows up and things change. That’s what’s supposed to happen, but “we mistakenly feel that failure to maintain [the relationship’s] exact original pattern is a tragedy.”
This “greater wholeness” a woman should aspire to does not mean “greater separation between man and woman.” She uses the image of a tree: The sturdier and better nourished the trunk is, the better it is able to support many branches, limbs, and leaves.
She concludes that her most important lesson from the island may be “simply the memory that each cycle … of a relationship is valid.”
The book gets its title from the sea shells she builds the essays around. They illustrate the different life phases to her. I get it, but I didn’t find it enchanting. Her writing style in general is not my favorite. Her prose is almost poetry and I’m not a big poetry person. And as was de rigueur at the time, she writes very formally, using “one” rather than “you.” Laura Lippman does that, too, and I can deal with it. But Ms. Lindbergh does it so often, I find it gets irritating.
“Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on the protect one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it?”
That’s just a little much for my comfort, but that’s just me.
One of the things I really like about the book is that we are the same now as we have always been. Things change, but we remain essentially the same. Ms. Lindbergh said that same thing in her end note in the 1975 reprint of the book. It’s a good book for women to read.