Plainer Still: A New Personal Anthology by Catherine Cookson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an interesting addition to the vast body of work produced by a prolific writer, but very different to her usual story-telling novelistic form. Comprised of a series of poems, essays, recollections, and snapshots of her life, the book gives an insight into the driving force behind her literary output. This was a woman who wrote because she had to work, and she had to work to try and bury the demons that chased her through her life.
Illegitimate, born into poverty, through these writings we see the revealed to us a woman determined to rise above it all, but at the same, a woman with a voice. Her story-telling is magnificent, and the little pieces of memoir in the book are captivating. Her talents as a poet, however, were not quite to the same standard as her prose. With only a couple of exceptions, her poetry is largely naive, filled with a yearning to express some sort of sentiment and emotion, and yet failing to get there. In many ways, her poetry reminds us that it is when she writes ‘plainer’ that we get a greater feel for who she is and what she is trying to say.
I did point to one or two exceptions in the poetic work included in the anthology. The Pit Village was extraordinary, in part because of its simplicity. Most of the rest of the poetry is largely forgettable.
It is in the prose that her gift for story-telling shines through. And she gives you, on the page, not only pieces of her history, but a large measure of her heart. We understand the shame she endured on account of the stigma of being illegitimate, the misery and agonies of her health struggles, and the joy she took from her relationship with her husband. There is much to love in this book, and much to walk away with. It gives you an insight into her life, and a taste of life in the North East as it was.
A reminder to all the aspiring writers out there – she didn’t start her literary career until she was 40. You have time.
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