The Double Life Of Cora Parry is a good book, but it’s not a great book. Angela McAllister’s story of a young girl left to fend for herself on the streets of Victorian London is an emotive tale of loneliness and pride. It’s a story that will please the audience it is aimed at, younger readers, but an older readership will likely find a few flaws.
It’s a very Dickensian novel, most notably for being incredibly similar to Oliver Twist. The similarities are in abundance from the fear of a workhouse to being trapped in a world of thievery under the tutelage of a rough scamp. Cora yearns for a better life after she is dumped outside of the workhouse and must resort to a life of crime to survive. Thus begins her journey into a double life. On one hand she must act like a master thief to feed herself, on another, she pretends a far better life to new found friend Joe, the pawnbroker’s son.
It’s this friendship that later stirs guilt about her new life which is conveyed very well to the reader and allows the book to explore the morals and ethics of what life would be like for someone in Cora’s position. Her meetings with Joe offer her a fleeting glance at a life she could have. All the while she is being taught how to steal by the leader of the slums, Fletch.
Fletch is a horrible character, not in the way she is written, but in her acts. She gives the book a darker tone that causes question as to who this novel is really aimed at. The jacket states that it is for younger readers and I would agree, but moments of Fletch’s aggression could be rather disturbing. At one point we are told that Fletch would cut someone’s throat as they slept and in another section Cora is told that if she were to run away, Fletch would find her and cut her face.
This heightens Cora’s need to escape letting loose the full story of the novel. Running alongside this are smaller plotlines that are just as interesting, but this all leads to the books ultimate failing, it feels rushed. McAllister uses her writing to craft a wonderful picture of a seedy London when people once thought the streets were paved with gold. Her characters are all incredibly endearing and believable and over the first three quarters of the book she crafts a story that, while cliché, is enjoyable.
But then it all falls very flat. The plotlines so lovingly crafted are tied up in the most bizarre and preposterous way, which gives thought that it had to copy other books in the world and take a turn for the surreal. Cora’s tale comes to an end that doesn’t justify the journey she has taken. All the while the supporting plotlines are wrapped up so quickly that they fail to impact the reader.
I would certainly recommend this to a younger reader with a codicil that the world of Cora can be very violent and dark. However, while I would recommend it, I would likely put a copy of Oliver Twist in their hands first.