Catherine Cookson’s The Cinder Path

The Cinder Path by Catherine Cookson

This was a rather fitting read for this time of year, with part of the book set during World War I. I was rather pleased to find a Dickensian reference in The Cinder Path, and I have blogged about this already at…

As this is the fourth Cookson novel that I have read, I am starting to see certain aspects of her writing that are troubling, particularly as regards the portrayal of the maternal relationship and the depiction of women generally. That said, in this particular novel, the central character is a male, and not a particularly likeable one at that. Not that there is anything to particularly dislike about him, it is just that, for the most part, he goes around his life letting things happen to him, rather than making any active choices. And when he does make an active choice it always seems to lead to disastrous consequences. There were so many times that I struggled to understand his motivation. A lot of what he did seemed to come back to his relationships with his parents, but not enough to make him any less insipid as a character.

I also struggled with the outcome of one of the characters in the book. The way that the workhouse boy, Ginger Slater, is portrayed, if nothing else, would lead to an interesting lesson in how important the narrative point of view is. The book is largely told from the point of view of Charlie McFell, who has an almost obsessional interest in Ginger, afraid of information Ginger acquired about him through no fault of his own. Ginger’s fate is also shocking, and in many ways unfair. Such is the spinelessness of Charlie that you cannot help but cheer on Ginger, especially given he was denied every advantage lavished on Charlie, particularly an education. The ‘inciting’ incident at the beginning of the novel is Ginger being thrashed by Charlie’s father. I do not think Ginger deserved his fate, and the book would have been better off being inverted – told from Ginger’s viewpoint rather than Charlie’s.

One of the strengths of the books was the depiction of the horrors of the war, while at the same time, writing of them as if they were just part of the everyday lives of the characters. In the days before Remembrance Day, where we focus on the horror of spilled blood, and sacrifice on the battle field, it was good to be reminded that behind all of these stories were the people up and down the country just getting on with their lives. There is no justice when there is a war going on. Maybe that is what I will take with me as I reflect on how this story played out.

Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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