Poor street kid's quest for the truth about her mother

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am

The Double Life of Cora Parry
By Angela McAllister
Published by Orion
ISBN 978 1 84255 603 0

Life in Victorian London was not easy for young teenagers if they didn't come from families with money.

The streets of the poorer areas were swarming with kids who had no family, no home and no hope for the future. They lived where they could, in broken-down buildings, under market stalls or in doorways.

They stole, took jobs where they could find them and were easy targets to be sucked into a life of crime. Street kids were one of the many social problems that made London in the late 19th century a dangerous place to live.

The title character in Angela McAllister's The Double Life of Cora Parry was born in a workhouse in London, and after the death of her young mother was adopted by a childless couple who lived outside the city. But on the early deaths of her adoptive parents, she is taken back to London and abandoned.

Determined not to end up in the workhouse where her mother died, Cora has no choice but to live on the streets. She is soon taken in by Fletch, a hardened young girl who pretends to be a boy, and who rules over a filthy basement that is home to other homeless kids who live by stealing, trickery and worse crimes. It is no place for happiness or hope.

Fletch trains Cora to be a street thief and house burglar. Cora is small for her age, and Fletch sees many uses for her, because she can get through small windows easily.

Her new life goes very much against Cora's inner moral values and conscience, but she knows she has to survive by using what chances are given to her. She has to find a way to cope that will prevent her from going under completely.

It is a dog-eat-dog life in the underworld of Victorian London, where no one can be trusted and friends simply do not exist.

Cora soon proves to be an efficient thief. But all the time at the back of her mind, she wants to find out about her mother and her true background. But Cora's mother is just one of the many young women who died in the dreadful Walston Workhouse. This is a place to be avoided.

As Cora stands at the railings, looking at the grim building, she knows that the answer to who she is lies somewhere within those unfriendly walls.

Guilt lies heavily on Cora as she sinks deeper into a life of petty crime, and she comes up with an interesting solution to her conscience. She invents a double, another person in her imagination who is the liar and thief that Cora herself has become. She calls this girl Carrie, and her mind tells her it is Carrie not Cora who carries out crimes.

The Double Life of Cora Parry is a fast-moving, stylish story, with a clever psychological twist at the end. It is packed with interesting characters and drama, and Angela McAllister keeps the tension at its peak until the end. Cora Parry has to have two lives in order to survive. But which life is the real one?

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com


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