Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, whom she believed to be her older sister. She began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings, where she met and married Tom Cookson, a local grammar-school master. Although she was originally acclaimed as a regional writer - her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby Award for the best regional novel of 1968 - her readership quickly spread throughout the world, and her many best-selling novels established her as one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists. After receiving an OBE in 1985, Catherine Cookson was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1993. She was appointed an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1997. For many years she lived near Newcastle upon Tyne. She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, in June 1998.
Prolific author Cookson (The Lady on My Left), who died in June of this year after publishing more than 90 books, left this last novel, again concerned with poverty-stricken Northern Englanders in the late 19th century. Alcoholic widower Hector Stewart has subjected the family farm to near ruinous neglect. Though his children, David and Pattie, object to his remarriage to Moira Conelly‘she's Irish, they complain‘their kind new stepmum turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Hector, the uncomplicated villain of the tale, treats Moira badly and denies Daniel the education he needs to become a doctor. Daniel makes the best of a bad situation, however, working hard and struggling to keep the farm from total deterioration, while emotionally supporting Moira and the increasing brood of half-brothers and sisters. A decade of births (pregnancy being the constant fact of Moira's life), deaths (most relieving: Hector's), good times and bad passes quickly via Cookson's melodramatic prose. Her fans will not be disappointed. (Feb.)
Daniel is still a schoolboy when his father, Hector, marries Irish Moira. When her promise of money fails to materialize, Hector pulls Daniel from school, puts him to work on the family's destitute farm, and begins drinking heavily. As each new child is born, Hector becomes crueler. After Hector's violent death, Daniel works hard to feed them all. His lifelong love refuses to marry him, saying that he is now bound to the children, and Daniel has to choose: the farm and family or his girl. Northern England in the 1880s is the setting for this story of how Daniel grows from child to man and the influences that shape him. There is less class conflict than is usual in Cookson's work (e.g., The Upstart, LJ 1/98) and more selfishness and unkindness. Daniel's too-good image is counteracted somewhat by his total blindness to real love, making him more human. A good story nonetheless. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/98.]‘Andrea Lee Shuey, Dallas P.L.