The Conviction Of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby No Exit Press March 21st 2019
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.
Sometimes it’s hard to write a review for a novel straight after closing that final page. You often need to take a step back and think about your feelings and thoughts, to process what you have read before arriving at an opinion and to be able to write. The Conviction Of Cora Burns was one of those novels, instantly immersive and compelling, with an abundance of historical detail that left you in awe of the authors narrative skills. It took me sometime to process how I felt about it’s main character Cora Burns, and discover who she was.
I don’t think Cora really knew herself, all she knew was that life had never been easy, in fact it had been damned hard, and oh how Kirby excelled in her portrayal of Cora’s life. The descriptions of a life brought up in the Victorian poor house, time spent working in an asylum laundry before the degradation and horrors of a prison cell were truly astonishing. The attention to detail was just superb and you could feel yourself recoiling in horror at the squalor of her stay in prison.
You could hear the loud agonising screams and see the behaviour of the so called lunatics in the asylum. Kirby’s narrative bombarded, and assaulted your senses as you read.
What I loved was the sharp contrast of Cora’s newest employment as she baulked at the lovely food, the warmth and normality of the people around her. Her confusion jumped out of the pages as she tried to discover who she was. Was she a good person or a bad person, was she destined for more of the hardships or was there something else out there waiting for her. Kirby took us on Cora’s journey, we glimpsed what she saw in others, the wayward human experiments of her employer Mr Jerwood, the growing realisation of what was right and wrong.
If Cora came to understand what was medically and morally right and wrong then so did we and this is what was so brilliant about Kirby’s novel. She challenged our senses, our own morals she made us think about what was important to raise a sane and balanced human being.
Kirby’s structure was equally interesting, a mixture of the present and the past, neatly interspersed with the thoughts and findings of Jerwood and the asylum doctor. Their medical reasoning and endeavours questionable but simply put, easy to understand, medical terms presented in layman’s terms requiring no need of a medical dictionary.
The historical detail was utterly brilliant, it never bogged down the narrative, but enhanced it and made for fascinating reading.
Above all it was the story of a young woman, a woman who you grew to admire, for her tenacity, determination and sheer will to survive.
If this was the quality of writing for a debut then I cannot wait for Kirby’s next novel.
I would like to thank No Exit Press for a copy of The Conviction Of Cora Burns to read and review and to Anne Cater Of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
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.