THE UPSTART by Catherine Cookson


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 The families in Cookson's period novels shout a lot and are unhappy as only Cookson's families can be (The Obsession, p. 659, etc.) when they wrestle with the problems of class, backstreet affairs, and the leaking away of money through profligate sons. Here, in the late-19th-century environs of Newcastle, Samuel Fairbrother, a rough-hewn grandson of a cobbler and now a successful owner of shoe stores, looks ``beyond his station'' and buys a ``gentleman's residence'' in order to raise his eight children to better things. With the house comes the elegant butler Roger Maitland, who'll eventually teach them all a lesson about class and character. And yet Samuel makes an uneasy adjustment to his new circumstances, in spite of the elegant efforts of Maitland to smooth out some of those rough edges. Wife Alice, meanwhile, soon feeling neglected, is about to rebel, even to flirt with--of all people--the attractive Maitland; son Howard, liar and cheat, falls deep into gambling debt; the flighty Alicia has cast herself at a stable groom and is now pregnant; and Jessie is headed for a convent. But two sons are off to sea, one promising to take to studies, and then there's daughter Janet, a chip off the old tough block, Sam's anchor in domestic storms--and there are plenty: Sam takes a mistress, Alice leaves, and Howard the Horrid is up for murder. The last straw is the attraction between reliable Janet and none other than Maitland the butler, with passion stirring. Sam the ``upstart'' is enraged that Janet the ``lady'' would marry a ``servant.'' Again, Cookson characters are noisy and broad-brushed, in plots that are formulaic, but there's also that raw energy and those displays of that gutsy, yeoman slang of the last century, ``common as muck'' but gritty as an oatcake. A reliable Cookson production.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-84315-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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