THE YEAR OF THE VIRGINS by Catherine Cookson


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 The time given for this latest Tyneside hellzapoppin' soaper is 1960, but with its small-village ambiance, northern England diction, and roaring stable of sufferers, the novel seems embedded in an earlier period. Again, downstage center: an ``unnatural'' woman of awesome power; a good, strong man who strays; victimized young people; and clerics both saintly and awful. Cookson (The Maltese Angel, 1994, etc.) serves up the mother of all hellfire mothers here in Winifred Coulson, the wife of decent Daniel. Winifred, a ferociously pious Catholic, is a menace to her youngest son, Don. She's smotheringly possessive and is wild with grief that he is marrying Annette--a marriage pushed by Daniel so that Don might escape Mother. Winifred is also a physical powerhouse whose assaults and feats of furniture demolition are impressive. The two other Coulson adult children- -adopted son, stalwart Joe, and childlike, retarded Steve, the eldest--are pleased at the prospect of the marriage. The wedding of Don and Annette--two pleasant young people, presumably virgins at marriage (and wow! when Mother discovers they ain't!)--is performed, but then tragedy strikes. And eventually so does Winifred. Throughout, Daniel discusses his mournful lot with good priest Father Ramshaw, companionable and bibulous, who gently rambles on, along the way casting forth some priestly admonitions. He's there to lend an ear and hand as there are savage assaults, a birth and two deaths, a terrible apparition in the snow, and a ton of guilt (Daniel has found comfort outside the marital chamber). At the close, however, two couples are united, and ``Everything comes to him who waits.'' This latest domestic fusillade comes dangerously near the edges of parody, but Cookson's energetic storytelling pizzazz is a wonderment.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-671-89650-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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