This reissue of Catherine Cookson’s debut novel, Kate Hannigan, is a handsome volume. Unfortunately, I did not find the book to my taste.
It opens as the title character is giving birth to her illegitimate child, aided by a drunk midwife and a young doctor new to the community. What follows is a romance, of sorts, between the doctor and Kate, complicated by his marriage and their disparate social standings. Kate is beautiful, intelligent and far too spunky to be believable, while the doctor is weak, waffling and long-suffering. The writing is uneven and the plot rather predictable. The author’s control of point-of-view is limited at best, and the bouncing from head to head only added to my diminished reading pleasure.
Most problematic were the characters. They were either very good (Kate, her mother, the doctor, Kate’s employers) or very bad (the doctor’s wife, Kate’s father, the midwife), with little nuance. Most things came too easily to Kate—far more interesting were her mother’s neighbours. Character motivation is also rather scarce, especially in the case of the doctor’s nasty wife. The reader never really learns why she is so mean and what drives her to keep her husband at arms length while indulging in multiple affairs.
On a more positive note, the setting was beautifully rendered, with period details and wonderful atmosphere. I truly felt as though I was back in Edwardian England. The area of the Fifteen Streets is drawn especially vividly. The late Dame Cookson’s literary success and legions of fans stand testament to the fact her writing style and stories hold great appeal. I only wish I could have seen it in this particular book.