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The first book I read by Joolz Denby was "Billie Morgan," a vivid tale of an outlaw biker gang. I loved this book immensely mainly because Joolz has such an amazing ability to craft down to earth yet vivid prose. I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read "Borrowed Light" and found I enjoyed it just as much.
The story is told in first person by Astra, who lives in the village of Polwenna in Cornwall with her parents and three younger siblings. The family are originally from Bradford, and Astra feels herself to be Bradford through and through, however they moved to Polwenna when Astra was young as her ageing hippie parents want to live a simple life by the sea. Astra returned to Bradford in her late teens to study at University but found herself moving back to Cornwall to support her family when her mum is diagnosed with MS and the family starts to fall apart.
As the book starts, life seems to be going OK for Astra. Her mum's health isn't too bad and her dad is busy as ever with his dental practise. Astra is surrogate mum to her youngest sister Gita and works part time at a café owned by her friend Con who has moved down from Bradford. She has a boyfriend in the form of the faithful and geeky Beaker, yet she can safely admire gorgeous surfer rich-kid Luke Skylur from afar. However it is clear that Astra isn't completely happy with how her life has turned out; she didn't intend to be a down-trodden, unqualified full time "mother" at age 26, which is effectively what she feels she has become.
However things change when Con's younger sister Angel arrives in Polwenna for an extended holiday. Angel is stunning and manages to attract the affections of half of Polwenna - Con can see no wrong in her, Gita looks up to her as a role model, and Luke falls for her, as does Tim the accountant, a regular from the café. Only Astra seems able to see through her. To her, Angel is soulless - a blank canvas on/in which people can see whatever they want. At the same time the air in Polwenna grows thick and heavy. The surf dies away meaning that a lot of trade might be lost. Only a storm can clear the air but no one could predict just what kind of storm will occur.
The plot follows the events that occur after Angel's arrival, mainly how Luke, Tim and Gita's affections for Angel grow and how this affects everyone else, Astra in particular. I can't do the plot much justice here without giving away too much but to be honest the main beauty in this book is the style of writing. Joolz Denby is a poet and spoken word artist and her wonderfully crafted prose brings her characters to life. I can see each and every one of them vividly, as can I picture the breathtaking Cornwall scenery which plays as important a part in the story as the characters do.
Astra is lively and brash, likeable yet flawed, and by the end of the book I found I knew her as a friend. I would love to know how her life progressed and whether she managed to do the things she wanted to do.
Con is likeable too although her infatuation with her sister is frustrating to both Astra and the reader. Angel is frustrating too; Joolz perfectly describes her shimmering beauty and unflappable demeanour, and there were many moments in the story where I would have happily slapped her. Not that any of this is a criticism - the characters are meant to be frustrating and this is executed perfectly. Tim and Luke are wonderfully crafted as lovesick, yet both very different in how they cope with it. Astra's new age parents are adorable and its easy to see why Astra so badly wants to protects them from many of the events that occur in the story.
I did wonder how this book would end, and the ending was not at all what I expected. I was kept guessing right to the last chapter and although a climax had built up I did not expect things to turn out as they did, but I do feel it was a very fitting ending.
The main themes in this book, for me, are love, obsession, madness, family, secrets and honesty. There is a feel of "The Ancient Mariner" about it - you can imagine yourself sitting in the pub with Astra as she recounts her tale, building up to the spectacular, devastating climax. It's an enjoyable and easy read and I highly recommend it.