Earlier this year I was thrilled to take part in the blog tour to mark the publication of The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby. You can read my review below.
If it tempts you to read the book for yourself (which I hope it does) then I have good news! The ebook is currently available for 99p until 10th November and a new paperback edition will be published on Thursday 24th October and is available for pre-order now at a discount (see links below).
Praise for The Conviction of Cora Burns
- ‘Downton Abbey meets Elizabeth Gaskell’ – GJ Minett, author of Lie In Wait and Anything For Her
- ‘The Conviction of Cora Burns is a striking debut. Rich in gothic darkness and period detail, the brutality of Victorian Britain is exquisitely drawn. A beautifully-written story which enveloped me from first page to last’ – Amanda Jennings, author of The Cliff House and In Her Wake
- ‘Kirby’s talent shines through her deft prose… I think this is a fantastic novel from an incredibly exciting new voice. I think fans of Sarah Waters would love this bold debut’ – Emily Elgar, author of If You Knew Her
- ‘A gripping historical thriller with a compelling protagonist. I loved the period detail and can’t wait to read more from Carolyn Kirby’ – Sarah Ward, author of the DC Childs novels
About the Book
Cora was born in a prison. But is this where she belongs?
Birmingham, 1885. 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…?
Format: Paperback, ebook (352 pp.) Publisher: No Exit Press
Published: 24th October 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime
Find The Conviction of Cora Burns on Goodreads
In her debut novel, Carolyn Kirby has set herself the ambitious task of handling multiple timelines and introducing the reader to a central character, Cora Burns, who at times exhibits both the best and worst aspects of human nature. However, to my mind, the author meets this challenge ably. True, the narrative, frequently shifting back and forth in time over the space of twenty years or so, requires some concentration from the reader but this effort will be amply repaid in my opinion.
The mystery surrounding Cora’s early life and the nature of her crime also demands a willingness on the part of the reader to allow themselves, as it were, to collect all the disparate pieces of the jigsaw and exercise patience for the final picture to be revealed. To continue my analogy a little further, expect to find you have some of the pieces in entirely the wrong place or to discover they belong in a completely different jigsaw altogether!
I mentioned earlier that Cora’s character involves both light and dark – at times, very dark. There are examples of tenderness, such as her patient creation of a doll’s gown, or her attempts at friendship with Violet, the young girl growing up in the Jerwood household. But there is also very dark, such as Cora’s frequent imaginings of violence against others (and sometimes not just imaginings) and her guilt about the terrible crime she fears she may have committed, an act so horrific she has purged it from her memory. Despite this, the reader (well, this one at least) can’t help rooting for the clever, feisty and spirited Cora, hoping she might be able to move on from her troubled past and make a happier life for herself. I think the author’s skill is always to make us believe this is a possibility without making us completely sure.
The exploration of the debate between nature versus nurture is a key theme of the book. There are those, like Thomas Jerwood, who hold fixed views on the matter and whose certainty in the rightness of their position and the ends to which they are prepared to go to prove it are positively frightening and seemingly have no regard for the wellbeing – mental or physical – of others. The power of social position, financial clout and primitive views about the treatment of prisoners and those suffering with mental illness mean they can get away with just about anything. On the other hand, there are those, thankfully, who hold more enlightened views.
So we have light and dark again and I was struck by how much duality plays a part in the book. For example, key to the plot is the use of photography in which negatives are transformed into positives. And, in a neat touch by the author, the taking of a photograph bookends the novel.
I could go on talking about the themes explored in the book because, aside from the intriguing mystery concerning Cora’s past, The Conviction of Cora Burns has so many other layers. Oh, and you can throw in a few Gothic elements as well. (Did Mrs. Dix make anyone else think of Grace Poole in Jane Eyre?) It all adds up to an impressive debut and an intensely satisfying read that I can wholeheartedly recommend to readers who like their historical fiction to have real depth.
I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, No Exit Press.
In three words: Clever, compelling, absorbing
Try something similar…The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (read my review here)
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.
Connect with Carolyn