Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth

9th Jun 2011


We’ve got a copy of Cold Light to give away! Want to be in with a chance to win? Read on to the end of our review for more info…

Set in a grim, cold and grey city, unmistakably Northern with the Ribble running alongside dilapidated apartment blocks and crumbling terraces, Cold Light is the second, brilliant novel by prize-winning author Jenn Ashworth.

Ten years ago, on Valentine’s Day, the bodies of beautiful fourteen-year-old Chloe and her much older, forbidden boyfriend Carl were found in the frozen lake. Presumed to be a star-crossed lovers’ suicide pact the city comes together to mourn the tragedy, and Chloe’s best friend Laura becomes a very reluctant celebrity.

Now grown and living in a moulding flat, working as a cleaner and never brushing her hair, Laura is dangerously obsessed with the past. Her memories of Chloe and her death are clouded with unresolved feelings towards her former rival for her best friend’s affections, Emma.

When a body is found near the site of Chloe’s apparent suicide, Emma and Laura come together to watch the events unfold. Both girls have secrets to tell, but will Laura’s depressed state allow her to confront her past?

Named as one of twelve best new authors by the Culture Show last year, Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was a darkly hilarious tale, leading to a bitter and haunting finale. Employing the same comic noir writing style, Cold Light is a much angrier, more ‘real’ book.

Whereas Annie in A Kind of Intimacy was almost too bizarre, the story that unfolds in Cold Light of being a teenage girl in the late nineties is chillingly true in its tone. Ashworth captures being fourteen completely; the back stabbing, constant fear and worry.

Having grown up in a similar situation in the late nineties, so much resonated with me; one moment that stood out was the description of Chloe’s hair, twisted into two dangly bits either side of her face that smells like her morning breath because she uses her spit to stick it together, exactly like we all used to do. This isn’t the bright shiny Spice Girls reminiscence of childhood; this is a punch in the gut and a shudder down the spine at how horrible being a girl really was.

Covering themes of abuse, mental illness, ablism, and cult of celebrity this is no way an easy read. Parts could be extremely triggering as to what extent Carl, the older scary boyfriend who has ‘his girls’ and is building a darkroom has manipulated his way into their lives.

However, the comic touch displayed so aptly in A Kind of Intimacy is also evident throughout. Favourite moments for me included the laugh out loud scene in Boots when Laura’s much older, sad mother insists on reporting her daughter for shoplifting.

There is a lot to this book, but it didn’t feel crowded, or too busy. Chloe is the classic manipulative cow that everyone hated at school but desperately wanted to be; Laura, or Lola as she was known, is a quiet mouse with a dad that’s ‘gone a bit soft’ and a crush on her maths teacher.

Apart from the slightly fantastical nature of the original setup for the book, and the garish, grating character of Terry, the news anchor whose all seeing eye dictates the spirit of the town, this book is one that will remain with me for a while.

Published last month by Sceptre, you can buy it in hardback for £8.00, or get the Kindle edition for £6.99.

Want to win a copy of Cold Light? All you need to do is comment on this review telling us so, and we’ll choose a winner this time next week.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Fans of Donna Tartt, Zoe Heller and Esther Freud.

Recommended reading: Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill or My Summer of Love by Helen Cross.

Jess Haigh


  • Grace says:

    I would love to win a copy of the book!

  • Great review! And I’d like to win a copy please 🙂

  • Treez says:

    ooh, I’d love a chance to read this, nice review.

  • Jane Bradley says:

    Thanks for the fab review, Jess – this reminded me so much of my nineties adolescence too. I found Cold Light an uncomfortable read in a lot of ways, but there’s no denying how absorbing it was. It also reminded me in parts of Whores on the Hill – all those schoolgirl rituals, and the insecurities and double-crossing that teenage female friendships all too often involved. Bella Bathurt’s Special is another in the same vein. Makes me want to investigate more of Jenn’s writing too – may have to invest in A Kind of Intimacy now!

  • Sounds like a great read! I’d love to win a copy!

  • Jess says:

    Honestly? I enjoyed A Kind of Intimacy a lot more-it’s funnier and doesn’t have as many ‘errr’ moments, how long have I been plugging this book for Jane and you still haven’t read it? Dissappointed. No editeo points for you

    (I of course jest, you get a lot of editor points xxx)

    • Jane Bradley says:

      Cheeky! In all honesty, it’s been on my must-read list for ages, but I can’t remember the last time I read a book which wasn’t for review. Except for Cold Light and Alan Cummings’ book…

      • jess says:

        oh mate tell me about it! So far I’m trying to get through two review books, a book club book and at least one off the ridiculous mountain of TBRs in a month! NOT that I am complaining about this!

  • Anna says:

    I would love a copy of the book, that is if you are willing to send one to Sweden…

  • Het says:

    I would love to win this! I really enjoyed A Kind Of Intimacy and this one sounds ever better (thought obviously I will have to wait and see!)

    • Jess says:

      If you don’t win you can borrow mine xx

      • Het says:

        Sweet. I’m assuming I’ve not won since I’ve not heard, so, this please! Also, what is the video at the top of the post? Are they making it into a tellybox programme? I started watching and it had a very Red Riding-y feel (ah lovely grim Yorkshire) but then I stopped in case it spoiled it for me imagining it when I read it. I am a big unfan of seeing tellybox adaptations first. (How very Stuff White People Like, yes I know.)

  • Reeca says:

    Wow!! Sounds great! I would love to win a copy!! Thanks

  • Laura Wilkinson says:

    Loved A Kind of Intimacy and would love to win a copy of Cold Light. Great review btw.

  • elka says:

    Really enjoyed A Kind of Intimacy and would love the chance to win and read this too. Thank you!