cover image The Rag Nymph

The Rag Nymph

Catherine Cookson. Simon & Schuster, $21.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-86477-4

Veteran Cookson ( The Parson's Daughter ) provides a sweet, though not terribly engaging tale of a precocious young girl in Victorian England. When her mother commits suicide after being arrested for prostitution, seven-year-old Millie Forester is thrust into the reluctant care of Raggie Aggie, an emotionally guarded rag seller, and Ben, the young man Aggie took in years before. Millie's presence brings happiness and new life to their house, as well as fresh ambition and spirit to its three inhabitants. For nine years, Aggie and Ben struggle to protect the delicate, vulnerable Millie as she grows into a beautiful young woman threatened by harsh outside forces, including the evil man responsible for her mother's death, the reappearance of her long-lost father and her naive misinterpretation of an upper-class suitor's intentions. Kind Ben, sensitive about his short stature and always hiding his unrequited passion for Millie, saves her from danger and ultimately teaches her what love really is. Loaded with villains, great escapes and several memorable characters, Cookson's romance is certainly a pleasant read, but it never fully develops strong narrative tension. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate. (Dec.)