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Book Review: "Pure as the Lily" by Dame Catherine Cookson

And dreamed not yet

of hands turned white;

like lilies,

If you have read my previous blogs, or talked to me in person, you know Catherine Cookson is my all-time favorite author. I cycled through every book I could find while in late junior high and early high school. When I went to Canada with my then fiancee to visit his parents, I found more Cookson books I could not find in the states (as she is an English author). I quickly snapped them up, happy as a clam that I had others.

But finally - alas - I had read through them all. However, I determined this year I was going to pick up some of my old favorites, including Cookson, so finding Pure as the Lily at a local Goodwill store for .99 made my day.

Mary Walton is the apple of her father's eye, but her mother is a cantankerous, nasty woman who despises her husband and Mary and has turned all her affection on her son, Jimmy. After a fall renders the elder Mrs. Walton unable to work, Mary assumes her mother's role as caretaker for the son of widower Ben Tollett. Mrs. Walton had previously wished to enter into an affair with him, but he soon has eyes only for Mary. When Mary makes a fateful decision one night, her life is changed and her family set onto a path of destruction from which there is no return.

Cookson writes about the harsh realities of choices, especially bad ones. Her characters are deeply flawed. Her villains are even more damaged. Sometimes there are religious overtones as people try to make sense of their world, but her writings are not considered religious / inspirational fiction. Her sagas oftentimes center around class conflict and poverty. Pure as the Lily was one of her shorter works and was written in 1972 about mid-way through her career. It is a tale of family disappointment and forgiveness, or maybe not.

Now, let me say it has been a loooonnnnngggg time since I have read a Cookson book, and the somewhat longer, flowery sentences threw me for a minute. Modern authors (yours truly included) have learned to say the same sorts of things with fewer words. And there was at least one time I found myself skimming through a few paragraphs. However, I was irked when I had to put the book down (because, you know, it has been so long since I read these books it is like reading them all over again), and I easily picked it up to continue. That is always a good sign with me.

I do vaguely recall after reading this book for the first time years ago that it was not one of my more favorite Cookson books. That has not changed, and in fact, this book is not rated as highly as some of her other books. I enjoyed the first part about Mary, but the middle and ending, about Jimmy and Mary's granddaughter, Pat, while holding my attention, did not resonate as well with me. Having said that, Pure as the Lily is still worth the read.

Next time, though, I will be picking up a Cookson that I remember as a favorite - and there are plenty to choose from!

Buy Pure as the Lily on Amazon.

The book is available at a number of other retail outlets. A quick google search should turn those up.

To read more about Catherine Cookson go here.

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