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Cold Light [Paperback]

Jenn Ashworth

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Book Description

March 27 2012
I'm sitting on my couch, watching the local news. There's Chloe's parents, the mayor, the hangers on, all grouped round the pond for the ceremony. It's ten years since Chloe and Carl drowned, and they've finally chosen a memorial - a stupid summerhouse. The mayor has a spade decked out in pink and white ribbon, and he's started to dig. You can tell from their faces that something has gone wrong. But I'm the one who knows straightaway that the mayor has found a body. And I know who it is. This is the tale of three fourteen-year-old girls and a volatile combination of lies, jealousy and perversion that ends in tragedy. Except the tragedy is even darker and more tangled than their tight-knit community has been persuaded to believe. Blackly funny and with a surreal edge to its portrait of a northern English town, Jenn Ashworth's gripping novel captures the intensity of girls' friendships and the dangers they face in a predatory adult world they think they can handle. And it shows just how far that world is willing to let sentiment get in the way of the truth.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (March 27 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444707760
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444707762
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 259 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,173,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Ashworth's novel is bleak and gritty, painting an uncompromising portrait of teenage life... In the best possible way this novel is an uncomfortable read. Lucy Scholes, Sunday Times That most uncommon delight - a literary page-turner. Sunday Times Haunting...it is told by the hand of a true storyteller. Independent Award-winning Jenn Ashworth leavens a bleak but pacey story with dry, wry humour, resulting in an extraordinarily perceptive and beautifully written novel Sunday Express A psychological thriller of the first order. The Age, Australia A wonderful tale, beautifully told. Bella Remember teenage bitching and insecurity? This book will take you back there, except with more lies and gruesome murder. Scarily believable. Fabulous a chilling, blackly funny novel with a surreal edge about the intensity of teenage friendship. Grazia Another cleverly skewed tale told from the self-conscious perspective of an outsider... arrestingly observant... Ashworth's second book confirms that the first was no one-off... her talent could take her a long way Guardian

From the Back Cover

I’m sitting on my couch, watching the local news. There’s Chloe’s parents, the mayor, the hangers on, all grouped round the pond for the ceremony. It’s ten years since Chloe and Carl drowned. You can tell from their faces that something has gone wrong. But I’m the one who knows straightaway that the mayor has found a body. And I know who it is.

Jenn Ashworth’s gripping and unforgettable Cold Light is the story of a friendship unsettling in its intensity and of one terrible summer when lies, secrets, jealousy, and perversion result in tragedy more twisted and evil than one unsuspecting community can handle. A dark tale with a surreal edge, it follows two fourteen-year-old girls, best friends, as they confront the dangers of a predatory adult world, where truth is cruelly sacrificed in the name of innocence.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Cold", yes. "Light", no. Sept. 23 2012
By Karie Hoskins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There is a grubby, desperate, joyless feel to "Cold Light" that caused me to put it aside a few times. While it is well written, with authentic feeling characters...as a group I don't think one of them experiences true happiness even once during the entire novel.

"Cold Light" is about dark things. Death, despair, cruelty, mean spiritedness and desperation fill even the smallest cracks of these characters lives. And I was never really sure why. Though none of them have dream lives, few of them are living nightmare lives.

Laura, or Lola, is the main character...and through her eyes we view this tangled group of unhappy and unfulfilled people. Though nothing other worldly happens...there is a feel of unreality throughout. Perhaps that emanates from the perspective of a very troubled teenage girl.

"Tonight I remember the things that happened during that winter and it is like watching myself in a reconstruction. Some girl who isn't quite real enough to be me stumbles through the corridors in a school that cannot have been so large and sits near a pair of girls that would never have been allowed to be so cruel."

Laura and her friend Chloe, and Chloe's newest friend Emma, are jaded and cynical, despite their young age. Their lives are about smoking, drinking, ignoring their parents whenever possible, and only tangentially about school. Their voices come across like those of much older women who have lived hard lives. This winter of their lives is filled with rumor, a forbidden boyfriend and a growing cloud of suspicion and danger.

"I knew already that it wouldn't matter. That this was the start of a time when things like shoes would stop mattering altogether. That the idea they had ever mattered was going to become funny."

This time would change them all. Furtive secrets, actions that could never be taken back...would lead to the destruction of the lives they know. Destruction that would echo into the future.

"I look at her, think about how she lives - alone, touching no one but her dogs - and get a glimpse of something massive and black, something I can't catch hold of."

"It is cold, where Emma is. I realize I do not understand it."

These characters are unable to understand themselves, let alone others around them. This book is glittering ice - slippery sharp with no warmth or soft spots. "Cold", yes. "Light", no.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and thoughtful July 2 2011
By Sid Nuncius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I thought this was an excellent book - very readable, extremely atmospheric, insightful and memorable. The book begins with the discovery of a body and the circumstances of how it came to be there gradually emerge in an extremely well-told story. It is not a detective story of any kind, but is concerned with the lives of the narrator and two of her school friends and how they came to be involved in the story. It switches easily between the present day and descriptions of events when they were all thirteen in 1997, and I found myself gripped and enthralled throughout.

I don't want to give away any plot details, but I found the story very plausible and the characters extremely well drawn. Jenn Ashworth is excellent at evoking the relationships between teenagers, and I thought truly brilliant in showing the life of a child in a family with a father with mental health problems. The atmosphere of a small City (never named, but with a striking resemblance to Preston) also seemed completely real to me, having spent my teenage years in a comparable city. The book has important things to say about teenage life, families and the effect of guilt both real and imagined, and is also very acute about the public and media response to tragedy.

My one reservation about this book is that I am not sure that someone of the background and education given to the narrator would be able to write so well or make such penetrating observations, but the book was easily good enough to make this seem irrelevant. It's very good indeed and recommended very warmly.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow Burn Aug. 21 2012
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
The American cover of Jenn Ashworth's second novel is badly misleading and presents as teenage-chick-lit-murder-kitsch trash preening to take itself seriously. However, when you start reading, you realize that you are in the hands of an evocative, acutely observant writer who may, in the not-too distant future, pen a novel that earns a spot on the Booker long-list. She can turn a phrase, spin raw into bold, scour us with prose.

Ashworth writes searchingly, hauntingly, and meticulously about teenage restiveness and jealousy; growing up with a mentally unstable parent; how the media erects false monuments; predators and predatory nature; and the inner lives of people short-circuited by guilt and shame, shut down by life at a young age. Her narrators are unreliable, abject, contrary.

Think indie film, back when indie films weren't an industry of precious, quirky, star-making features, but rather ensemble pieces shown partly in grainy texture, in an atmosphere that is "shrieky and curious and raw." This is somewhere in an economically depressed place in Lancashire, near the Ribble Valley. Laura, now twenty-four, lives in the council flats and works as a cleaner in the local shopping center. She's pallid and dingy with limp hair and acne scars. Everything in her flat seems coated in a furry substance.

Laura turns to the TV for a broadcast memorializing her best friend, Chloe, fourteen, who drowned ten years ago with Chloe's much older boyfriend in an apparent suicide pact on Valentine's Day, 1998. But no one says "suicide," they say "tragedy." The council is erecting a monument, essentially making Chloe a saint. There's now a rose named for her, called Juliet, as in Romeo and Juliet.

"She was special, when she was alive--but not in the picture-perfect way people think of her now. Being dead has turned her into a final draft."

This "concrete folly" being erected is "half a monument to love gone wrong and half a nice piece of publicity for the City's urban renewal programme--... something for the teenagers to [smoke] their glue in. It's morbid and sentimental, it ticks all the right boxes for community enterprise funding..."

First on the scene with unexplained deaths and always bursting with bad news, newscaster Terry Best of television's The City Today mugs up to the camera, as he has been for twenty years. As the cameras roll on the ribbon-cutting with the mayor, a piece of earth is dug with a spade, and another body is unearthed, temporarily taking the limelight off Chloe. Terry's in his element, though, upstaging Chloe while floridly covering both events--sharp Terry, always ready for seamy, muddy twists, making a living on it, a daily fixture in their lives.

The narrative alternates between the present and the past, a reconstruction of Chloe and Laura's friendship, with a third wheel, Emma, who, ten years later, is demonstrably more mentally unbalanced than Laura. Emma lives on disability and volunteers at a pet shelter. Emma and Laura have a tenuous bond now, meet for coffee sometimes, and speak dartingly of Chloe.

In the evening, Emma comes by Laura's flat, after the newly discovered body is declared on the news, and Chloe and Emma share a box of wine and delve deeper into the past. Through these circumspect conversations and inner dialogue, the reader slowly, gradually begins to piece together an accurate picture of the past. We also learn about Laura's family life--her deprivations, her father's illness, the constant and accumulating terrors of everyday life.

Although the unreliable narrators are integral to the reconstruction of events, at times it feels protracted, and you just want the story to get on with itself. The casual pacing falters at intervals. From the first chapter, you realize that this is not a "detective novel," per se; however, there is tension from unexplained events. Predators skulk the woods, a person goes missing, shadows lurk. But it is primarily about the accretion of psychological blows, the small bruises and bitter inflictions, and the skewed perceptions of the media, which glimmers on everything but the truth.

"Every single time Emma came up with a fact, I provided one more and she ran out of things to say first, and at the end I was still holding Chloe's secret in my mouth, like the time we put buttons under our tongues to make us sound posh when we made prank phone calls."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A harsh, gritty, and cold story Oct. 24 2012
By Michelle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I won this from the Firstreads program on Goodreads.

Cold Light is a harsh, gritty, and cold story that really threw me for a loop while reading it. In truth my rating is more of a 2.5 but I'm still kind of confused on where I stand with this one. I honestly think that the blurb had me thinking it was going to be different, as well as the cover. I expected a mystery of the `normal' caliber but instead I got a rather grimy tale of three girls in the middle of a really terrible situation. It turned out to be incredibly depressing actually and I have trouble remembering if there was ever a high point ; I can only remember having a feeling of dread and confusion the whole time. This book handles a whole handful of terrible situations and topics, and it doesn't do it lightly at all. It deals with pedophilia, underage drinking/smoking/sex (though not graphic), death on multiple occasions, and even bullying. If you can think of something terrible that happens in high school then you can almost bet it in this book. However while I did find the situations kind of scary and I know this stuff happens, it just got to the point where I had a hard time believing that three people who are friends would be so stupid. I'm not blaming the characters for the outcome or what occurred to them, because I get that situations with pedophiles are never easy to put an end to. There is a lot of psychological trauma that goes on, but there is only a certain level of stupidity that I can handle in fiction and this soared over that line. Call it a clash of personalities.

The book starts off with a prologue of two girls being questioned over the death of their friend, and the first official chapter is the news coverage of a memorial being built in her honor years later. It's a great start for the book, however I think due to the fact that it flips between the present and the past so frequently some of the story becomes jumbled. The whole story unfolds in the correct order but there are interludes of the two woman watching the news cast or saying something kind of unrelated, and it made it hard to follow. Of course the farther you get into the story the more realize that all of the seemingly random stuff actually does piece together but it takes the whole book to get to that point. There is also a lot that centers around the news reporter that has really nothing to add to the story and only served to annoy me.

All of the characters this focuses on are depressing, and every one of them has something terrible related to them. Laura, or Lola, is the main character and the one who narrates the whole novel. I didn't really relate to her at all, and that probably has to do with the fact that I don't get her personality. She's kind of a push-over and she relies on others a bit too much, and when she finally gets that streak of independence it kind of goes wrong. She finds herself friends with Chloe, who in my opinion wasn't that great of a friend and was more of a user than anything else. Chloe has been immortalized in her death as an innocent girl in love, and Lola works her way through the novel disproving that theory one story at a time. Emma is the third girl in this trio and while she and Lola don't really consider themselves friends they anchor each other in the past. These three girls withheld so many secrets from each other it's kind of insane, even when it would be beneficial to share they keep lying to each other. It's kind of petty but then again I guess that's how some teenagers are. I just found the three of them (especially Lola) frustrating, and I found the way Lola sought after Chloe's approval sad.

I know that this is a good book overall, but I didn't enjoy it. The mystery and lies repealed me more than it drew me in, and the story just felt grimy. It's certainly not a feel good book and the issues it features are real, so before you grab this book be aware that this is not a light mystery novel.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Took Me by Surprise! July 27 2012
By kindlemom1 (My Guilty Obsession) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I had a hard time getting into this one at first. The writing and language were different than what I was use to, however once I got into the story and got use to the flashbacks and got a real feel for the story and characters, it did get better and I found myself getting drawn into the story.

This definitely isn't your typical innocent YA novel. This one slowly draws you in and piece by piece, memory by memory lets you into the real story. What the characters were really like and what really happened that fateful day.

Nothing is quite what it seems and no one is an innocent as they appear.

Truly this was cleverly done.
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