Combined Reviews: Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse

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cold_light.jpg    Cold Light
Frank Moorhouse
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra. Edith now has ambitions to become Australia's first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be 'a city like no other'. When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country. It is also not a safe time or place to be 'a wife with a lavender husband'. After pursuing the Bloomsbury life for many years, Edith finds herself fearful of being exposed. Unexpectedly, in mid-life she also realises that she yearns for children. When she meets a man who could offer not only security but a ready-made family, she consults the Book of Crossroads and the answer changes the course of her life. Intelligent, poignant and absorbing, Cold Light is a remarkable stand-alone novel, which can also be read as a companion to the earlier Edith novels Grand Days and Dark Palace.


David Marr in "The Monthly": "With Cold Light Frank Moorhouse brings home a mighty, 25-year project. Australians love a three-decker novel, but nothing on this scale has been tried in this country for a long, long time. Moorhouse has taken us on a strange voyage through the psyche of Australia. We've laughed. We've cried. We've had our differences. After all these years and pages we know ourselves and our place in the world better. It's no small thing...That Edith Campbell Berry has no entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography seems a curious oversight. She has worked with great men, observed great events at firsthand and subjected all she has experienced to habits of self-examination drummed into her during her rationalist childhood in Jaspers Brush, on the NSW south coast. True, she is a bit of a prig and rather earnest. She gets about in gloves. But she is brave, original and good...One of the most memorable scenes of Cold Light is Edith breaking with Sir John Latham over beef Wellington at the Melbourne Club. Her old mentor and fellow rationalist had ended up the only man on the High Court to back Menzies' Communist Party Dissolution Act. After having this out with him in the club's gloomy dining room, they never speak again. Such pluck. Years later a note in an intelligence file about this 'dressing down' would see her in good stead with a new regime in Canberra."

Jo Case on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Frank Moorhouse's trilogy of novels about Edith Campbell Berry is surely one of Australian literature's finest achievements...Cold Light is a study in apparent contradictions. A character-driven novel that also features a city--Canberra--as one of its main characters. Storytelling on a grand scale that uses small details (like the significance of desk management) to speak volumes about its characters and setting. A novel that is joyful, devastating, deeply touching, wickedly funny--and smuggles in serious political messages with the entertainment."

Jonathan Shaw on his "Me Fail? I Fly!" weblog: " know, I can't say I enjoyed the book. It's the third volume of a trilogy and maybe I should have read the other two books first. As it was, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of recapping, an awful lot of 'As you know, Bob'. I expect that if I'd read the other books, these would have been less irritating, and I might have had greater tolerance for Edith's frequent ruminations because of a clearer sense of them perhaps as charting her mental journey. She ruminates on on her ideal capital city, on the nature of love, on the lessons to be learned from the League of Nations. I've got nothing against ruminations, but I couldn't find anything wise, witty or provocative in Edith's - I don't think I've ever been so bored in a book that I still wanted to keep reading."

Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Few Australian novelists have dealt so subtly and extensively with politics as Moorhouse - few have dealt with it at all. He is not afraid to cut and paste from the historical record. He is alert to the 'seductions of the Great Cause', whether the league or the CPA, and to the shifting ground between allegiance and betrayal...There are fine set-pieces in a narrative that takes time but does not drag: Menzies's speech in parliament to introduce the act to ban the party; the shocked, disbelieving and all-too-soon-dissembling reaction of party members when they learn of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in the 'secret speech' to the Soviet Party Congress. These are enlivened by cameos: of a lordly Whitlam, of Holt - 'the man who had no smile, only a salesman's grin'...Cold Light is a distinguished example of what Peter Brooks called 'the novel of worldliness'. Some characters exert power but, in their milieu, diplomacy, secrecy, gossip and knowingness are the currency. Much as they seek to shape society, theirs is a hermetic enclave, sealed by old memories, debts and obligations of revenge. Thus one forgives Edith's confession 'god knows she had a lot of caviar in her day'."


Patrick Arlington for "Readings".

John Purcell on the "Booktopia" blog.

Andrea Hanke on the "Fancy Goods" weblog.


The author talks about his book for Random House Book Talk:

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 29, 2012 9:16 AM.

2012 Barbara Jefferis Award Shortlist was the previous entry in this blog.

2012 Miles Franklin Award Longlist is the next entry in this blog.

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