Cora Vincent is essentially a character study, in which a ‘derailed actress’ living in Hove is offered a break, quite by chance, with a role in a West End theatre. This offers her the opportunity to leave her past behind. The story is, says its blurb, ‘set in a country split by politics and disjointed through lives that are increasingly isolated and lonely’. Indeed, the tale is set amongst the turmoil of Brexit, and examines – although not always in the greatest of detail, given the story’s length – the things which divide us.
Aboud is an award-winning short story writer, whose work, whilst underrepresented, garners a lot of praise. Cathy Galvin calls Cora Vincent ‘startling and considered’, and notes Aboud as an ‘important new voice’ in literature. Other reviewers of the story concur. Susannah Waters writes that ‘very few people put words together on the page as beautifully as this’, and Tom Lee that ‘Georgina Aboud has a voice and vision all her own’.
Cora Vincent opens vividly, on the advent of a new year: ‘Ten. Nine. Eight. The old pier stands undressed, but defiant still, and there’s a boy in fingerless gloves who does a cartwheel, and a girl with a face punctured by piercings and a glittering in her eyes… And the dog wears one of those jackets that I hope stops her being scared, and I have a whisky tang on my tongue and a brine wash through my hair…’.
We are catapulted into Cora’s narrative, and soon understand quite how aware she is of her own physicality, and the space which she takes up in the world. She goes on to say: ‘Peel back my skin though, and the truth idles everywhere: in glistening leg muscles and shoulder blades that could, if I say so myself, belong in an anatomy textbook. There’s a truth in my never-inhabited uterus. In my fists. In a jagged crack that runs across my forearm, in a missing tooth lost at a disco, and a lost appendix, dug out from the abyss.’
We move back and forth from 2019 to pivotal moments in Cora’s life. In her present day, she is taking up the first theatre role which she has been given in years; she says that she owes her newfound job to her ‘totally fudged’ CV. When she receives the phonecall to say that another actor has broken her arm, and could she stand in, Cora feels ‘a prickle of something, maybe hope, growing inside me.’
Aboud’s prose is both richly layered and easy to read. Her descriptions feel original; on Cora’s first day of rehearsal, for instance, Aboud writes: ‘And we stand in this thin-skinned room, with tooth-coloured walls, making childlike sounds, and the strip lighting buzzes with homecoming.’ I found parts of Aboud’s writing startling: ‘Fancying someone feels like ulcers, of being trapped in a falling lift. It’s an acceleration where nerves eat each other and hearts are held in teeth.’
Cora Vincent feels very thoroughly done, and encompasses what feels like a highly realistic protagonist. There is a lot of consideration which has been given to both plot and protagonist, and Aboud writes believably of how and why Cora has turned out the way she is. There are thoughtful passages, and a lot of focus upon a past relationship which Cora had with a man named Kit: ‘We are tethered to each other by weighted strings that are snipped and hastily re-tied back together and snipped again, by one or both of us’. The non-chronological structure, and the way in which Aboud flits back and forth in time, worked really well here. Cora Vincent is a really satisfying story, and I very much look forward to reading more of Aboud’s work in future.