First US publication of a 1952 novel by the late Dame Catherine—and a good one: Cain and Abel on the Tyneside docks.
Young and strapping John O’Brien has a romantic heart and a poetic way, though all that’s no use as he looks for work unloading freighters. His mother, Mary Ellen, is pregnant once more, with many mouths to feed already. Devout Catholics, the family is frightened by the Protestant spiritualists who move into the flat above, determined to help the afflicted—and the old man and his granddaughter Christine do somehow save Mary Ellen from a childbirth end, though her newborn dies. Healed, she struggles on against soul-destroying poverty, not helped much by husband Shane, an alcoholic who suffers from tremors. But Shane can still knock down his other son, Dominic, a violent, almost fiendish brute who spends his pay on drink and whores. Meanwhile, good son John adores younger sister Katie, a shy and studious lass, and believes in her dream of becoming a teacher someday—didn’t Miss Llewellyn say she could do it? Mary Llewellyn is a teacher herself, a vision of elegance and breeding to this rough lot, the daughter of an erstwhile dockworker who’s now a respected boat-builder with his own yard, while her mother, a sharp-tongued social climber, is aghast to see her daughter keep company with John. She’s not the only one: Dominic erupts with jealous rage when John becomes a gaffer who hires and oversees the dockworkers. First, Dominic beguiles a simple-minded girl and gets her pregnant, then starts scurrilous rumors that John’s the culprit. When he sets Kate and Christine adrift on a boat, all of Tyneside sees the girls drown. Knowing he’ll never have his Mary now, John hunts his evil brother from house to house, bent on a terrible revenge.
Cookson (The Lady on My Left, p. 1413) bestows an emotional grandeur on the circumscribed lives of her working-class characters, and her vividly written tale has real power.