3 out of 4 stars
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Kathleen and the Priests by Lord Gittoes is a novel in the historical fiction genre. It began in London, England, in 1897 when the protagonist, Kathleen, was 16 years old. Following some disturbing circumstances, she fled her family home and began to make a life of her own. After six months of living on the streets, Kathleen was feeling hopeless. With some guidance from a local priest, she decided to hold on for one more week and pray for help. Shortly thereafter, Kathleen met Mick and the two joined forces. Mick had a dream of emigrating from England and he invited Kathleen to go with him to Australia. To travel together, they had to be married. As a result, the pair wed on Kathleen’s 18th birthday and set sail on the SS Northumberland in August 1899. The ship docked in Sydney Harbour in March of 1900. Mick was hired almost immediately as a bricklayer. Once they got settled, they were allowed to rent a cottage right by the local Church property for an excellent rate in return for fixing it up. Kathleen began work cleaning the Church.
Kathleen and Mick had three children together in quick succession. However, as they settled into life in Australia, Mick became less and less of a husband, father and friend. He spent much of his time drinking and eventually left his family to pursue a relationship with a man he met on the job. In addition to her cleaning the Church, Kathleen took in a boarder. Her oldest daughter started to carry out odd jobs for the Parish so that the young family could continue to afford to live in their home. The book includes both the incredibly positive and terribly negative experiences possible with men from the Catholic Church. It also includes themes of loyalty, honesty and living one’s best life.
I enjoyed the story as a whole. Kathleen’s life included many significant events. Even though some were a bit extraordinary, they were all believable. It didn’t feel like too much. Kathleen, in particular, was described well. While not a superhero, she was a person who thought things through, owned up to mistakes and looked to find the best solution in challenging times. An example was the effort Kathleen put into remedying a challenging situation with her daughters. When she realised her daughters didn’t properly understand the facts of a maturing female body or any details about sex, she successfully sought expert help. Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was reading about some of the local sights when Kathleen went on a trip with her second husband. The chapters dedicated to her daughters were another highlight for me.
On the downside, on occasion, the book felt as if it was ‘skim written’ as opposed to ‘skim read.’ It skipped from discussing a future incident to the event happening or having already happened in the following paragraph. Secondly, I felt that some parts of the storylines about Kathleen’s daughters were left hanging. Lastly, the finale of the novel was fitting but it also felt rather abrupt. The book began with a preamble, brief section and prologue but there was nothing after the final chapter. An epilogue would have nicely tied up some of the aspects that didn’t feel quite finished.
I rate Kathleen and the Priests 3 out of 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. There were, however, a fair number of typos, a bit of repetition, a few jumps in the story and some loose ends. A professional edit would quickly take care of these relatively minor issues. I am quite confident that this historical fiction novel would rate 4 out of 4 afterwards. There are profane words and sexual scenes in this novel. Therefore, I would suggest an audience of older teens and adults. This book would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction and/or would be interested in a story set in Australia during the early 1900s. Those who are sensitive to reading about abuse by Catholic priests should give this one a miss.
Kathleen and the Priests
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