Maddy's Reviews > Borrowed Light

Borrowed Light by Joolz Denby
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May 02, 10

bookshelves: 2006-reads, tops
Read in July, 2006

PROTAGONIST: Astra Sharp
SETTING: Cornish seaside town of Polwenna (UK)
SERIES: Standalone
RATING: 4.75

The permanent residents of a town that is a tourist destination often live in a world that is far different from that depicted in the glittery brochures. Several years ago, Astra Sharp's family moved from Bradford to the Cornish seaside town of Polwenna. When her mother's health began to deteriorate as a result of MS, Astra dropped out of college to take care of her. She doesn't view that as a sacrifice. Her hippy parents are endearing and warm people; her little sister, Gita, is almost like her own child. Her other sister, Gwen, is a flaming religious fanatic; but hey, doesn't every family have at least one difficult member? Astra has a nice boyfriend, "Beaker", and is able to have some outside social interaction as the result of working part time at a café owned by her best friend, Con. All in all, life isn't a bed of roses, but it certainly isn't a bed of thorns either.

And then Con's sister, Angel, comes to visit. There is something about her that causes people to become obsessed with her: Con, who can never see her weaknesses and loves her blindly; a boring local accountant named Tim; Luke, a golden surfer boy who visits annually; a star struck Gita, and more. Inordinately beautiful, Angel is really an empty vessel. In an almost preternatural way, she exerts an evil influence over the entire area. The weather changes drastically, and the tourists begin to leave. People behave in ways that are completely atypical, the most extreme case being Tim, whose mental health declines dramatically. Angel herself is soulless but not evil; she doesn't have the ability to empathize with others or to see the effects of her actions.

BORROWED LIGHT is really not a work of crime fiction, although a murder does occur, which the reader anticipates throughout the narration. Even though it is expected, the actual death still horrifies and saddens the reader. Instead, BORROWED LIGHT is an extraordinary character study, where even the minor players are vividly portrayed in a way that causes the reader to react emotionally. They all seemed like real people to me; and as such, they made me cheer or cry or become exasperated as Denby rolled out their stories and how each of them was managing to cope (or not) with life. She doesn't judge any of the characters but rather presents them just as they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses on display.

The other element that makes Denby's books a pure delight for me is her use of language. In addition to pitch perfect dialogue, she writes so lyrically that I sometimes pause in awe at the pure beauty of her words. The setting feels like a place you've been, almost like touching on a memory of a visit. Although the story is grim at times, Denby mixes in just the right amount of humor and compassion to alleviate the darkness.

One of the most powerful books I've ever read is Denby's BILLIE MORGAN. Based on my experience in reading these two books, I can guarantee that I will be buying any of her future works on the day of publication. Joolz Denby has rapidly become a "wow" author for me.
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