I have had this book sitting on my to-be-read pile for far too long and am delighted to have got around to reading it last – just in time for publication day tomorrow.
Ex-convict Cora is a right bad ‘un as some might say. But what chance in life did she have? She was born in a Birmingham jail in the late 1800s to a mother she never knew, brought up in a workhouse and worked in an asylum. While growing up she was friends with Alice Salt and they were a terrible influence on each other. Despite Cora seeming to always behave in the worst possible ways, somehow the author makes you have some sympathy for her. She is prone to violence, cruelty and sheer nastiness. But there is a sense of some vulnerability within her, although I’ll admit it’s very well hidden. The need to know who she is and where she’s from is a strong driving force within her.
Doctors’ reports and articles from scientific and medical journals added throughout the book add sense of authenticity, making it seem as if reading about a real case. These and the storyline raised interesting questions about whether a person’s character is formed through nature or nurture. In Cora’s case you could ask these questions based on her experiences for real but in another character’s case it was a cruelly contrived experiment. Despite the appalling life Cora lived, this is a book which offers her some hope of a happier time ahead.
This is a very well researched novel and that comes across so clearly in the detailed storyline. You get a real sense of the hard life experienced by many, the grinding poverty, the dreadful living conditions, the squalor. The Conviction of Cora Burns is an assured debut and I look forward to travelling into the murky past again with this author.
I’d suggest a visit to The Book Trail to read an excellent article from the author about late 1800s Birmingham.
My thanks to Katherine Sunderland at No Exit Press for my review copy of the book. It will be available to buy or order from your usual book retailer or you can order a copy online here: Cora Burns
From the back of the book
To believe in her future, she must uncover her past…
Born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse, Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside her.
Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the house of scientist Thomas Jerwood. Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment. But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora…?
With the power and intrigue of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions and Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done, Carolyn Kirby’s stunning debut takes the reader on a heart-breaking journey through Victorian Birmingham and questions where we first learn violence: from our scars or from our hearts.
About the author
Originally from Sunderland, Carolyn Kirby studied history at St Hilda’s College, Oxford before working for social housing and then as a teacher of English as a foreign language. Her novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was begun in 2013 on a writing course at Faber Academy in London. The novel has achieved success in several competitions including as finalist in the 2017 Mslexia Novel Competition and as winner of the inaugural Bluepencilagency Award. Carolyn has two grown-up daughters and lives with her husband in rural Oxfordshire.