18th February, 2018: The Silent Lady

‘Those who say they would write a book if only they had time will never become authors.’ – Catherine Cookson

***

So this was quite a saga about a poor woman who led a terrible life – I think if I experienced half of the drama she did, I would be driven to silence… and that’s me we’re talking about.

Catherine Cookson tells us the story of Irene. Jilted by her first lover, she marries Edward. Respected, wealthy and fourteen years older – he seems like a safe bet. However, soon after Irene has their son, she soon learns the extent of Edward’s abusive traits – he is unhinged, abusive and sadistic.

Safe to say, after a life of toil with this bloke, she loses the ability to speak because of the trauma. Edward prevents her from seeing her son and she is forced to escape for her own safety and she goes missing for over twenty years. We are given a nice predictable ending and it is very sickly sweet (I actually struggled to finish the last forty pages because it felt like the end of a Lark Rise to Candleford episode), but I have to say, for the amount of trauma she went through I sort of feel like a sad ending would be a bit Tolstoy. Fair play, Catherine. Give Irene a break.

Now, for those of you who haven’t heard of Catherine Cookson, it is important that I fill you in. She was a pretty remarkable woman, really. She was born in South Shields, up here, in the North East, and was the illegitimate daughter of Kate (who later inspired her novel, ‘Our Kate’). She had a difficult start in the world, supporting her mother who battled alcoholism. Also, as it was 1906, decorum about wedlock and children and all that jazz meant that she was treated badly by a lot of people. Catherine left school at 14 and worked her way up from being a laundry assistant to a laundry manager. She saved enough to buy herself a nice big house and she took lodgers to supplement her income. Tom, a schoolteacher, fell head over heels for her and they married and were devoted to one another. Catherine began writing after suffering four miscarriages – it was a form of therapy which turned her into one of the most widely read novelists in the UK.

Her legacy lives on in her books, of course, and they have been adapted into ITV movies (Sean Bean is in one, Catherine Zeta-Jones is in another!). Her biggest legacy is the donations she left for her foundation to distribute after her death. In her life, she donated £800,000 to Newcastle University to support their medical facilities and research, and the foundation continues to support the university and other local charities and places of interest, such as the Tyneside Cinema. You can listen to Catherine Cookson talking about her life on Desert Island Discs, before she died, in 1998.

Would I recommend this book? Perhaps not. I would choose a different one. I liked ‘The Girl’ and ‘The Fifteen Streets’ more. So, if you are interested in reading some of Catherine Cookson’s work, I would start with those.

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