Jenn Ashworth: Cold Light (2011) Crime and Social Realism

An unsettling, darkly humorous tale of teenage girls in a predatory adult world, and a cocktail of lies, jealousy and unworldliness that leads to tragedy.

I have been looking forward to Jenn Ashworth’s new novel since I read A Kind of Intimacy at the beginning of the year (here’s the review). I had a bit of a problem not comparing the two books but once I let go of that I really liked this novel, it’s disturbing and chilling and you only find out at the very end what really happened.

Cold Light is a very appropriate title for this novel, although – as will be explained towards the end – it refers to bioluminescence.  It is a cold world in which today’s girls move and a predatory one. But is this really all that new? There is a lot that reminded me of my own coming of age. Not for anything in the world would I want to be 14 again. The competitions, the jealousy, the insecurity and the constant fighting off of boys or hoping to be noticed by them – depending on where on the good-looking scale you were positioned – was by far too upsetting. It’s all very horrible and can damage you for life. But there are other things young girls have to cope with nowadays that were not even thinkable 10-20 years ago. And today’s Britain (I’m just finishing Kat Banyard’s book The Equality Illusion and it echoes Cold Light) seems to be even worse than many other places.

Chloe is dead. Chloe will be 14 forever, 14, pretty and romantic. Since her presumed suicide 10 years ago she has become something like a cult figure. A symbol for young love and innocence. Now, ten years later, her former best friend Laura sits in front of her TV in a shabby little apartment and watches the groundbreaking ceremony for her memorial. The ceremony comes to an abrupt and macabre end when human bones are found in the damp soil. Laura nows whose bones they are and from this very first scene in the novel we know that some things must have gone seriously wrong ten years ago and we also know that there is a lot to be found out about Chloe, her ex-boyfriend who died with her and everyone else who was involved.

Laura will be watching TV all night, later joined by Emma with whom she is still in contact. They will be smoking and drinking until the early morning. Through flash backs and parts of their discussion the truth is slowly revealed. It’s the story of three friends who are jealous of one another, an older boyfriend who seems weird, a town in a state of alarm as a flasher who is getting more and more violent is chasing young girls. The three girls are only 14 yet they smoke, drink and have sex. We also hear a lot about innocent Chloe, how she exploited the obsessive best friend feelings of the others, how narcissistic and bullying she was, her delinquency and how she always got away with everything just because she was so pretty. Reading the story from Laura’s point of view we discover a lot about her family, the sadness of her childhood, about her father who seems to suffer from some kind of mental illness, her controlling mother and her obsession with Chloe that turns her into a stalker.

It’s an excellent book, disturbing and accurate and reminded me a great deal of the movie Fish Tank. I also thought of Harry Brown. Both movies paint a bleak picture of British youth. The first one also focusing on young girls being as well prey, victims and perpetrators.

Thanks again to Hodder and Stoughton who send me a review copy.

Winners of the Giveaway of Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light

As promised, I am announcing the winners of the giveaway today. I have used random. org’s list generator.

The two copies go to

Litlove from Tales from the Reading Room

and

Amy from The House of the Seven Tails

Congratulations.

I will contact you per e-mail or you can send me your address via e-mail.

I have read my copy already and will be posting on it soon.

Jenn Ashworth: Cold Light (2011) Giveaway

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.

Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I loved Jenn Ashworth’s novel A Kind of Intimacy (here is my review). That’s why I am especially pleased to be able to giveaway 2 copies of her new book Cold Light courtesy of Hodder.co.uk.

The giveaway is open internationally. All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me if you would like one of the books. If there is a lot of interest, I will determine the winners with the help of random.org. They will be announced next Monday.

I started reading my review copy and so far I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s different from A Kind of Intimacy but quite captivating as well.

The giveaway ends Sunday June 5 2011.

Jenn Ashworth: A Kind of Intimacy (2009) A Very Noir Character Study

Annie is morbidly obese, lonely and hopeful. She narrates her own increasingly bizarre attempts to ingratiate herself with her new neighbours, learn from past mistakes and achieve a “”certain kind of intimacy”” with the boy next door. Though Annie struggles to repress a murky history of violence, secrets and sexual mishaps her past is never too far behind her, finally shattering her denial in a compelling and bloody climax. A quirky and darkly comic debut – giving readers a glimpse of a clumsy young woman who has too much in common with the rest of us to be written off as a monster.

I discovered A Kind of Intimacy thanks to a review on Danielle’s blog. It was also among her top 12 of 2010 and it was also one of the favourite reads of Guy Savage who also reviewed it.

I already jokingly “said” to Danielle in a comment that her top 2010 might become my top 2011 and,  yes, this book is certainly a candidate as it is astonishingly good. Very dark, absolutely fascinating, engrossing, and very well executed. While starting it I had forgotten Jenn Ashworth was compared to Ruth Rendell but the association immediately occurred to me as well.

A Kind of Intimacy is told by the main protagonist, obese, deluded Annie herself. She is what you call an unreliable narrator. The reader feels that something is wrong from the beginning, too many hints and little details tear apart the picture of perfection that Annie wants to draw for our and her own sake. These interfering details, as I would call them, make this a creepy read. Uncanny and creepy. It is not so much that we judge Annie as that we wish to never meet someone like her as she seems capable of doing really harmful things.

At the beginning of the novel Annie moves into a new neighbourhood. One of the first people she meets is Neil who has a natural capacity for being kind, which proves to be fatal in this relationship, as Annie doesn’t see things the way they are but the way she wants them to be. Unknown of Neil or anyone else, she is convinced, he is her soul-mate and the only thing that needs doing is getting rid of Lucy, his skinny and pretty girlfriend.

What starts like a comedy soon develops into something much darker. Bits and pieces of Annie’s past are revealed slowly. A miserable childhood, an odd marriage, a baby girl who seems to have disappeared and some really dodgy things Annie does to try to get “A Kind of Intimacy” despite her being revoltingly obese. The further you read the more you will hope to never meet anyone like Annie.

As deluded and extreme as she may seem, Annie is a character I am all too familiar with which added another dimension to my reading. However odd this may seem, I have met more than one Annie in my life. They were not always as dangerous and they were always male… Call me Neil… It’s really scary what some people can interpret into your tiniest actions.

I read somewhere that Jenn Ashworth was criticized for chosing an obese woman as her protagonist… I see Annie as a distortion, a caricature and as such the obesity did work for me. Unlike one critic I read, I did feel sorry for Annie. All through the web of lies and deceptions we catch glimpses of a very lonely and hurt soul.

Jenn Ashworth is a gifted writer. If you have ever tried to write yourself you will know that voice and point of view are always very challenging. Annie’s voice does sound so right. There is not one wrong note in this symphony of lies and self-deception. A Kind of Intimacy is one of the best character studies I have ever read. Fascinating, creepy and compulsively readable. I am sure this book will appeal to readers of crime and general fiction alike.

Just one aside, Jenn Ashworth won a prize for Best Blog Content in 2008. Here is the link to her site.