BOOK REVIEW: Cold Light (Frank Moorhouse, Vintage)

In the final volume of Frank Moorhouse’s ‘Edith Trilogy’, former League of Nations officer Edith Campbell Berry has fallen on hard times: Canberra in the 1950s. As a married woman—albeit an unconventional marriage to her longtime companion, British diplomat and ‘nancy boy’ Ambrose Westwood—she finds it difficult to break into conservative Australian politics. While life in postwar Canberra may lack the glamour of Geneva in the interwar years (the setting of the first two books Grand Days and Dark Palace), beneath the surface it is far from dull: communism, nuclear weapons proliferation and a town-planning conference are just some of the issues demanding Edith’s attention. In Cold Light, Moorhouse adds further layers to his complex character. Edith is older, she has suffered disappointment and is searching for direction. Happily, however, she still knows how to have fun, and it was wonderful to spend time with the ‘old Edith’ in this book: the witty Edith, who excels in verbal sparring, sometimes in Latin; the sexy Edith, who enjoys under-the-table hanky-panky at a dinner party at the Lodge; and the slightly eccentric Edith, whose first task in landing a public service position is to redecorate her office. This is an intelligent, insightful, funny, sexy and sometimes sad conclusion to a wonderful trilogy.

Andrea Hanke is editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. This review first appeared in the November 2011 issue of the magazine, available online here.

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