Wednesday, October 29, 2008

51. The Fifteen Streets

The title: The Fifteen Streets
The author: Catherine Cookson
Publication: Simon & Schuster
Got it from: Library donation

If you've never read Catherine Cookson, I'll sum up her novels in five words:

We're poor, and it sucks.

Now I'll sum it up longly:

We're poor, and it sucks, and we'll have heaps of horrible things happen to us, and there will be struggles between rich and poor people, and a bunch of people will die horribly and everything will barely work out at the end with a tentatively forged romance. The End.

Last year, at the request of two cackling old sisters who came into the library, I read The Dwelling Place. Now that was a depressing book. It also made me want to throw the book at the wall because in the end the heroine actually marries the guy who rapes her and gets her pregnant, instead of the nice guy who cares for her! Never mind that he's a complete rake who impregnates every woman in the Caribbean, he's rich! (Highlight if you don't mind spoilers.)

This book was slightly better in terms of the horrible things happening-o-metre, although something awful does happen that I did not see coming (but I should have because it's a Catherine Cookson novel). The story centres around a Catholic family, the O'Brien's, living in turn-of-the-century Northern England (Liverpool?). They're dirt, and I mean dirt, poor. The only thing keeping them going is that the three older men in the family work part-time down at the docks: Shane, the father, John, the hero of the story and his younger brother Dominic, who is a complete bastard. There's a movie of this book at the library where Sean Bean plays Dominic, and I really should see it.

The story is really all about John and his relationship to his hard-working mother, Mary Ellen, and his bright and lively little sister Katie. There's a sub-plot involving the Brackens, a family who move in next door who are rich and some sort of spiritualists, which causes them to be shunned by the neighbourhood. Their daughter, Christine, falls in love with John but is pursued by the lecherous Dominic. John is kind to Christine, but is himself falling in love with Katie's teacher, a rich girl from the other side of town.

This book was really hard to get into at first. The first few pages are from the perspective of some neighbours, which really makes things confusing, and it's difficult to tell which family member is who. There is also a lot of old-timey poor class slang thrown at you right away and I couldn't tell which way was was up for about a chapter. However, once the story eased into the O'Brien household it became much more readable. I must say, even though she does write the most awfully frustrating stories, Catherine Cookson is a wonderful storyteller. She has a way of making her readers sympathize with her characters that's remarkable. I found myself truly rooting for John and Mary, the schoolteacher, to be together. Overall, even though the ending wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped, I liked the story much more than I expected. B-

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