Book Review: The Dwelling, by Catherine Cookson.
Review by Melody Scott
The Dwelling is a story about how it’s possible to overcome an adverse life.
I loved the “voice” of the story, which includes the “gutter” dialogue between half the characters.
It seemed to have several stories interlaced into one book. The beginning of a family of 18 children and two parents in early
whose dad and children worked in the
coal mines as soon as they were old enough to hold open underground
doors--about 8-10 years old. England
The story begins after nine of the children, the mother and the father have all died from the current rash of Cholera. Nine children, the oldest one 14 are huddled together in a house where they were evicted from, since the father held the use of the house as long as he was alive. With his death went the rights to the company house.
The options the children had were all awful--from workhouses to indentured servants, and the gallant eldest, Cissie, refused to separate the family. It seems the elder boys who worked alongside the father were among the nine who died. Two boys, nine and ten were useable, but only for conditions like death traps.
It seemed to be constant winter with the second main goal was to figure a way for the last nine to not freeze. Cissie found a cave in the side of the “fells,” which I never figured out. I assume a cliff face above swampland. She took everything from the house they children could manipulate and moved into this cave. It was very tiny for nine, but it was deep and rather out of the weather.
The kindnesses they received were few and far between, the cruelty and selfishness they confronted daily was rampant.
The fellow who saved them from starvation pinched foods from the mill-owner’s daughter, who was homely and about whom he didn’t care for particularly. They just had good manners with each other. This Matthew sacrificed himself to marry the millowner’s daughter in order that he could keep his true love (Cissie) from starvation. I think this guy was the hero of the story, even though things changed regarding that issue later in the book.
As soon as the reader felt these people are going to be okay, something else would happen to make things even worse, as life sometimes spins out of control.
The hard to believe part was how a person who had actually raped a young girl and caused a pregnancy could end up being the one the girl fell in love with.
Even if he had supposedly grown up to be a decent man. The child from the rape became as a pawn between divorcees--who would raise him, who would have what rights, etc. Cissie, for her part, agreed to never see the child again in exchange for keeping her brat sister out of jail for stealing, and sealing a deal for pay to keep the rest of them alive, clothed and in a house of her choice.
Well, life became full circle. The huge number of conflicts, with no outcome being a good choice but only the best of the worst, Cissie bumbled through, keeping all the children together as she had said, in a cave the children shored up with rocks mud and industry, i.e. the Dwelling.
This story brought out the class differences, the hardscrabble life with a dirt floor.
You were either born into the gentry or you were not claimed by them as humans with needs. They were seen as somewhere between a dog and a slave. How could a fine
family even live with a homeless person in their house? Yet the unfortunates waited on them hand and foot, with ten more ready to take their places if they messed up or even looked like they might mess up.
It was an excellent read, though the premise I mention above seemed unlikely.