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

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.


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

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    November 1, 2012

    Vintage Australia

    736 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
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    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    October 26, 2011

    RHA eBooks Adult

    733 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Frank Moorhouse

The Drover's Wife
Australia Under Surveillance
The Commune Does Not Want You
The Story of the Knife
The Commune Does Not Want You (Storycuts)
The Story of the Knife (Storycuts)
Grand Days
Loose Living
Room Service
The Everlasting Secret Family
Tales of Mystery and Romance
The Americans, Baby
Futility and Other Animals
The Electrical Experience
Days of Wine and Rage
The Inspector-General of Misconception
Dark Palace


Crimes of the Father
Into the Water
Best Laid Plans
Night School
The Woolgrower's Companion
The Traitorâ??s Girl
After You
Lake Hill
The Light Between Oceans
Congo Dawn
The Handmaid's Tale
Anything Is Possible
Men Without Women
The Good Mother
The French Perfumer
The Mistress
The Course Of Love
Seven Types of Ambiguity