Tuesday 24 October 2017

Our Kate

One can easily imagine Anita Brookner meeting someone like Edith Templeton in somewhere like Bordighera. But Brookner and Catherine Cookson? They never actually met, but they might have. But we know Brookner read her - once. That alone inspires astonishment (and gives her an advantage over me).
I read one of her novels, which ran to over 500 pages, and did not entirely manage to crack the code of its popularity, but then the novel was not intended for soft southerners. I found it artless, seamlessly written, and plotted only in the sense that everything came out right in the end, yet I could see that it possessed a certain transparency which would inspire trust and loyalty in her readers.
Observer, 27 November 1988

Cookson's stories, Brookner goes on to say, are 'for the public library, destined to be read at home on a quiet afternoon', and indeed it was during my own library years that I came across Cookson. For those who do not now recognise the name, Catherine Cookson was the extremely popular author of many dozens of tales of Northern life. Tilly Trotter, I recall, was the name of a recurring heroine. Brookner, reviewing Cookson's 57th title, is more than slightly baffled, but she manages to avoid condescension. Cookson is 'entirely honourable', 'innocent', 'remarkable'.

It is Brookner's comments on the art of autobiography that are of chief interest:
Autobiography is traditionally a genre peculiar to the upwardly mobile, the socially insecure, those who have no context to explain them. Its purpose is to expunge pain, but more than this, to create a life myth, an alternative support system. In rewriting history and establishing causation a measure of control over circumstances is achieved. It is a daring and agonising task which may not fulfil its intended purpose.

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