Before I Go by Catherine Cookson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my first encounter with Mrs. Cookson in her writing. What a world of writing she immersed herself in out of the melee! The book is one of her post mortem work discovered by her estate with the other unpublished novel, and I can see Mrs. Cookson must have intended to have this memoir published after she’s long gone because of the self-evident title of “Before I go”. This book is filled with her innermost feelings towards her family – her mother whom she called “Our Kate” and her dearest husband Tom and the people who entered her life, such as Nan Smith, the various doctors who attended to her lifelong health frailty, and her faith as a doubting Catholic. As an illegitimate child of an unwed mother from a poverty-stricken family, Mrs. Cookson however did not yield herself to the the bare necessities of life as it demanded.
Mrs. Cookson was a true example of a triumph of will and hope over experience and condition. Working as a manageress in a laundry, the author did not resign herself to the complacency of her social class. Instead, she raised herself above the hubbub of life and arrived as a fine writer who wrote about people whom the readers could relate to based upon her experiences. Also, her Catholic faith, which she had been fighting with reason to no avail, was the bedrock of her character and shaped the way she looked at the world around her. For it was her faith to which she held on in times of trouble and from which her compassion, pity, and forgiveness sprang.
What I like about Mrs. Cookson is her feistiness and pride which distinguished her from her peers and people of similar social origins. But this does not mean that she became haughty and untouchable with her literary success; on the contrary, Mrs. Cookson still retained her charitable nature although she often lamented about it because of people’s appropriation of her compassion and pity gratuitously.
The reader will be able to read the mind and heart of this fine and very human writer. It’s not about her lifelong health problems of nose-bleeding, 8 miscarriages, and a peripheral vision by advanced age; this memoir is about Mrs. Cookson’s resilient spirit that enabled her to rise above the planes of biological hindrance and societal prejudices.