Monday, November 14, 2011

The Double Life of Cora Parry - BookReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

"Angela McAllister manages to capture the mood, smell, danger, and desperation of the piece, a cookbook of Victorian London’s chaotic and seething community."

What a treat this is. Yes, Victorian-based novels are ten a penny, but with The Double Life of Cora Parry you are given so much more for your money...

It all begins with Cora, a young girl recently returned from her guardian's funeral, that of Martha Parry. It is quite clear from the opening that there is no love lost between the two; indeed, with her guardian dead, Cora has an opportunity to be free. Even the opening paragraph tells you so much about the life of this child:

"Cora Parry stood in the lane, staring at the house she’d lived in for eleven years as if she’d never seen it before. To anyone passing, the neat cottage and tidy country garden appeared the same as usual, but for Cora everything was different today. Everything had changed forever."

A weight has obviously been lifted. And it is with relief that Cora enters the house, exploring it for the first time without her guardian’s presence breathing over her. To shed a little light on the matter of guardianship; Cora’s other guardian had been Martha’s husband, Elijah. It had been he who had saved Cora from the workhouse when she was three years old. Elijah had shown her the kindness that Martha never did. The latter only resented her company; the very presence of Martha’s black cane, next to the front door, only served as a reminder of those unpleasant, painful days.

At last a time to rejoice. However, not for long unfortunately...

The situation soon changes and Cora finds herself back where it all began - stood outside the gates of the workhouse. No family. No home. And matters quickly deteriorate from there. Rescued from the kidsman, a recruiter for gangs (think a mix of Fagin and Bill Sikes and you get the idea), the young girl is introduced to Fletch, a street-wise figure of mystery and cunning. This is where everything really does get complicated. Led to a damp and dingy cellar, Cora discovers that Fletch shares her “patch” with others. More to the point, she doesn’t just share, Fletch is in sole charge of the cellar and its mix of unfortunates.

Author Angela McAllister manages to capture the mood, smell, danger, and desperation of the piece, a cookbook of Victorian London’s chaotic and seething community. This is a world in which you will either sink or swim, survive or perish. And as the novel progresses we begin to see a different side to the central character - something far darker than the streets she visits at night.

The Double Life of Cora Parry changes over half way through, bringing with it further mystery and discovery. There is certainly something eerie going on with Cora’s alter-ego, and the lines become blurred. Not saying more than that. But it does keep you firmly hooked from start to finish.

On a lighter note, Cora develops a beautiful friendship with young boy Joe and his pet monkey, Pip. Joe's father works at a pawnbroker's and it is here where Cora spends some of her time, teaching the boy to read. But even this close friendship masks a secret or two.

Review summary

After reading this book, do I now feel tempted to explore further works by Angela McAllister? Yes, absolutely no question. And it would be a pleasure to do so!

The Double Life of Cora Parry publication date: 2011