Book Review: The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

The Shell Collector is a collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr. Each story is the same sublime quality of All the Light You Cannot See, but packaged as delicious bite-sized nuggets. These short stories pack a powerful literary punch!

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, from qualifying purchases. (This in no way affects the honesty of my reviews!) All commissions will be donated to the ALS Association.

I read The Shell Collector for the 2023 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. Because February is the shortest month, this month’s challenge was to read a book of short stories.

The Shell Collector is composed of eight different stories of varying lengths, story lines, and settings, each of them beautifully written and an exploration of some aspect of the human condition. Many of them have themes of love, separation, and change.

I won’t summarize all the short stories in The Shell Collector, but let’s discuss a couple.

The collection starts off with short story by the same name. The shell collector in this story is a blind expert on – you guessed it – crustaceans and he lives in a shack on the coast of Africa. Every day, he wades out to a coral reef to collect shells, which can be dangerous because the old man has to run his hands over everything and risks getting bitten by poisonous snails and other sea creatures. 

In fact, one of these poisonous snails changes the shell collector’s life. In regular doses, the venom quickly kills a person, while small doses seem to have curative powers. When word gets out, sick people flock to the old man’s shack, setting off an unfortunate chain of events. The story drew a vivid picture of the setting, created memorable characters, and made me NOT want to be a blind shell collector!

The other story I want to discuss is The Caretaker, which is the longest and perhaps the most powerful of the short stories. This is the story of Joseph, who gets caught up in the violence and terror of the Liberian civil war. His mother is missing, presumed dead, and a traumatized Joseph flees to America, landing on the coast of Oregon.

Joseph is so damaged that he can’t keep a job and ends up homeless, living in the woods. During the story, he buries four huge whale hearts, starts and nurtures a garden, and befriends a deaf girl he stopped from killing herself. In Anthony Doerr’s capable hands, this odd collection of events is woven together to create a memorable tale.

If my summaries of these stories didn’t pique your interest, it’s because I didn’t do them justice. The Shell Collector definitely falls into the category of short stories worth reading.

How about you? Did you read a book of short stories this month? Don’t be shy – tell us about it!

**Reminder – March’s challenge is to read a book about or set in Ancient Rome.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

  1. What a great choice! I had never read any Anthony Doerr before but after reading this one, it surely won’t be my last. When I finished the book and was trying to determine which story was my favorite, I was unable to decide since I liked each and every one of them. As a fisherman, I particularly liked how many stories involved fishing or water. Also, Doerr seems to capture a feeling that is readily conveyed to the reader in very little prose. He’s not verbose – it’s short stories – yet the reader feels the sentiment of the characters. Two thumbs up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so excited to hear about this book, as I thought All The Light We Cannot See was one of the best books I’ve ever read! It looks like Doerr returns to some favorite themes – collectors, people with physical limitations. I’m putting this on my list – right after Remarkably Bright Creatures, which I downloaded right after reading your review.

    I’m reading a terrific book of short stories right now – Opulent Syntax, edited by Don Duncan and Dave Ring and published by Neon Hemlock Press. Opulent Syntax is an anthology of speculative fiction (science fiction and/or fantasy) set in Ireland. The stories are short and powerful – and really evoke the dark, green, magical essence of the Emerald Isle. My plan was to read them slowly, ending on St. Patrick’s Day, but I may be too impatient. This book is a real treat.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing your review of The Shell Collector. I plan on reading it and other books by this author. It’s hard to write compelling short stories, and normally, they’re not my favorite reading material. But your review made me decide to engage in this one.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.