Cold Light

1 ratings 4 stars

Winner of the Queensland Literary Award. Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Barbara Jefferis Prize.

Book Setting: Canberra, Europe, Lebanon
Cold Light, Frank Moorhouse

Winner of the Queensland Literary Award. Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Barbara Jefferis Prize.

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.


2014 Awarded in conjunction with Adelaide Festival
2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards
2012 Queensland Literary Awards (Fiction Category)
2011 Miles Franklin Award

Available Formats

  • Paperback
    $19.99 RRP
    ISBN: 9781742759111
    Published: 01/11/2012
    Imprint: Vintage Australia
    Extent: 736 pages
  • eBook
    ISBN: 9781742754574
    Published: 26/10/2011
    Imprint: RHA eBooks Adult
    Extent: 733 pages
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"Moorhouse is especially good on the shining promise Canberra once offered. What is especially wonderful is that while so many books tackle single themes, it is life as art that takes the central place here, and many themes wrap around it. Cold Light is a deeply moving, and singular, achievement in our literature." - Delia Falconer, The Australian

"Cold Light realises the remarkable ambition of the Edith Campbell Berry trilogy - to render the trauma and hope of the twentieth century through the life of a fearless Australian woman determined to leave her mark on the world. It is a grand, mature work of the imagination by an intellectually sophisticated author. Frank Moorhouse writes translucently to create a novel populated by complicated, plausible characters of depth and passion, a stage enriched by historical detail.
Edith Campbell Berry is a woman who has always made the political personal. Her return to Canberra in 1950 is tinged with disappointment and hope. Life is complicated - her brother is a Communist, her husband a cross-dressing English spy, her chances of a job limited by marriage, her mentors disappointing - her idealism is tempered.
Canberra becomes her obsession and she embraces it with the passion and vision we came to expect of her on the international stage earlier in the trilogy. Through her eyes the nation's capital becomes a visionary project. As events unfold around her Edith confronts the disappointments and setbacks of age with self-awareness, curiosity and an acute sense of the intersection of private and public life.
Frank Moorhouse has brought the intellectual richness and political tensions of post-war Australia to life in unexpected ways. In Cold Light he has created an enduring Australian character and captured a time that still resonates. Edith is complicated, and dreams big. She embodies the possibilities and limitations of her time, place and gender and is Moorhouse’s enduring gift to Australian literature." - Miles Franklin Award judges

"To write about one's country is like writing about one's family; a hazardous and unreliable business, criss-crossed with deep human reservoirs of love, protectiveness and shame. It is tempting for the voyager in such circumstances to protect himself with mockery or contempt, but you chose a different way; a harder way, and more vulnerable, and infinitely more precious. Thank you for doing it with such love and care, Frank.To write with fondness, rather than contempt, is something I learned from you, and I think it was a valuable lesson.
Edith is the sort of character with whom anyone would like to have dinner. She is clever, and principled, and foolish, and vain, and decisive, and fierce, and hopeless, and interested in shoes. We love her and that's that.
These three books - Grand Days, Dark Palace and Cold Light - are, together, an extraordinary piece of Australian cultural infrastructure, if you'll permit me the ugly expression. They are built from your hard work and your extraordinary natural gift, and the fact that you did not allow the abundance of the latter to excuse you from the rigours of the former.
Thank you, Frank." - Annabel Crabb, from Letter to Frank at the launch of Cold Light

"Edith Campbell Berry is one of the great heroines of Australian literature. After a life lived large in Europe for several decades, Edith finds Canberra in the 1950s a rude shock. But she persists in leading a professional and engaged life during the years of the Menzies government, a time when sexual mores are closing in and reds are being seen under every bed. This is a story of immense style, wit and passion, enlivened by conversation. In her highly unconventional life, Edith retains a singular dignity and compassion and an endless curiosity about her world." - Judges citation, Barbara Jefferis Award 2012

"Moorhouse is writing about diplomacy in the political, social and personal spheres. The book is a delicious re-imagination of the period, populated by real-life characters such as Robert Menzies, Gough Whitlam, Harold Holt, Frank Hardy and Ian Turner, and Moorhouse's own characters." - Jason Steger, The Age

"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.
But of course, life contains all these contradictions too. And that is, above all, what the Edith trilogy is: a nuanced portrait of changing times, as reflected through the life of one woman who lives it as fully as she knows how. With verve and dash and integrity.
In Edith Campbell Berry, Frank Moorhouse has arguably created one of the most complex and intriguing women in Australian fiction. It has been a pleasure knowing her." - Jo Case, The Book Show, ABC Radio National

"Like Edith, Cold Light is dutiful, brooding, witty and salacious - and indefatigable. It's Edith's story but Australia's too. And in its daunting scale and civic optimism, Moorhouse's completed trilogy is starting to look like a grand public monument of the kind Edith once imagined furnishing the national capital. It is a truly formidable literary achievement." - Thornton McCamis, The Sun Herald

"Cold Light is a bravura performance. It is a triumph. The sublime ending is among the most poignant and beautiful writing that Moorhouse has produced." - Patrick Allington, Adelaide Advertiser

"Spending time with Edith is such a privilege. I don't know if I have loved a book more, for a long time." - Alex Sloan, ABC Local Radio, Canberra

"This novel contains elements of such fundamental storytelling categories as romance, adventure and quest. In the scope and depth with which it explores both the era at the level of international relations and the workings of the inner life in all its tiny nuance and fleeting detail, this novel would be an extraordinary achievement on its own; as the third instalment of the massive project that is 'the Edith Trilogy', it may be unique in the history of Australian fiction." - Kerryn Goldsworthy, Australian Book Review

Frank Moorhouse

Frank Moorhouse

Frank Moorhouse was born in the coastal town of Nowra, NSW. He worked as an editor of small-town newspapers and as an administrator and in the 1970s became a full-time writer. He has written fiction, non fiction, screenplays and essays and edited many collections of writing. Forty Seventeen was given a laudatory full-page review by Angela Carter in the New York Times and was named Book of the Year by the Age and 'moral winner' of the Booker Prize by the London magazine Blitz. Grand Days, the first novel in The Edith Trilogy, won the SA Premier's Award for Fiction. Dark Palace won the Miles Franklin Literary Award and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Award, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the Age Book of the Year Award. Frank has undertaken numerous fellowships and his work has been translated into several languages. He was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to literature in 1985 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Griffith University in 1997.