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Cold Water [Paperback]

Gwendoline Riley
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

1 May 2003

Carmel McKisco is wry, volatile and full of longing: a twenty-year-old girl working nights in a Manchester dive bar. Cut off from her family, and from Tony, her carefree ex, she forges strange alliances with her customers, and daydreams, half-heartedly, about escaping to Cornwall.

Cold Water is a poignant picaresque of barmaids and barflies; eccentric individuals all somehow tethered to their past - not least Carmel herself, who is nurturing mordant fixations on both her lost love, Tony, and her washed-up adolescent hero: a singer from Macclesfield. As she spins out the days and nights of an unrelentingly rainy winter she finds herself compelled to confront her romantic preoccupations, for better or worse.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (1 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099437155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099437154
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 236,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Strikingly assured... A writer of unexpected sensibilities and uncompromising originality" (Guardian)

"Cold Water is a thrilling pleasure... I don't think I've read such a good début in years" (Alan Warner)

"Vivid and stylish and endlessly, surprisingly filled with perfect, unexpected images... a beautifully written book, utterly original and the most exciting thing to have been published this year... Fantastic" (Big Issue)

"A truly original new voice in fiction. Her bleakly poetic first novel has an atmosphere all of its own: melancholy and profound yet shot through with the urgency of life and love" (Shena Mackay)

Book Description

'A beautiful début novel... A real achievement... This is a wise and incisive first novel from a real talent' - Scotsman

Winner of the Betty Trask Award.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cold Water, Warm Read 27 Aug 2004
By Luanne
Based in Manchester, Cold Water is the debut novel from Gwendoline Riley, featuring a snap shot of the life of Carmel McKisco. Carmel is a dreamer and much of the book revolves around her dreams and her dissatisfaction with her nowhere life. Infact, not a great deal happens in Cold water, but this is the book's strength. Riley's prose is so dreamy and poetic yet so sparse and blunt that you can't helped but be gripped. Carmel doesn't come across as a particularly likeable character - at times you feel like shaking her and saying "Get your act together", but nonetheless you find yourself wishing that she finds the happiness in life that seems to elude her.
Cold Water is a short novel at less than 150 pages long, but every word is purposefully written, nothing is superfluous or unnecessary. Some readers might perhaps find it a tad boring, but with this book you have to read between the lines, and I found that the inactivity and inertia of the main characters actually spoke volumes and affected me more than other novels in a similiar vein which purposely set out to shock (such as Helen Walsh's Brass, which failed to impress me).
For such a young novelist, I think Riley shows great talent and promise and I look forward to seeing how her work develops over time.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't quite hit the spot 21 Nov 2008
I read this very short book in a few hours. It's very economically told, and parts of it are poetic. Carmel is an interesting and intelligent narrator and the whole thing has a cold and desolate atmosphere from page 1.

To be critical, there's not enough of it! I like books with minimal plots, but this is more like reading a snapshot of someone's life than a novel: the ending is completely unsatisfying as it doesn't really go anywhere, and the narrator doesn't change at all. The writing is strong so I might forgive this if it wasn't coupled with a very bizarre moment that doesn't really make sense and is never properly explained.

A good read, but needs to go much further.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Manchester Noir 17 Jun 2002
Cold Water is an intriguing debut that has rightly received praise for its language and style. It is a short novel, but concentrated, so images and events play back on you at a later date. It demands reading at one sitting not just because of its readability but because the subtlety of the writing loses some of its effect if interrupted. A series of scenes and vignettes of bar flies and barmaids, the reader is soon immersed in a Manchester that is given an overdue cinematic hue. Sure, Manchester is notorious for its rain, its industrial decline and its music scene, but anyone who lives, works and goes out here knows that it can sometimes be a very special place - and the lack of previous literary descriptions of the city therefore seems surprising. Maybe it takes a young writer - unencumbered by the dominant London media scene and enamoured of American writing - to draw out the glamour from the grime. The Guardian has praised the novel's poetic descriptions, as if Riley sees things in a different way, but I felt that her style is best with its economy of narrative. She chisels a scene or an anecdote to a point and then lets it hang in the air without the bane of so much literary English fiction, the over explanation. Whereas the woolly monsters of Rushdie, Amis and Zadie Smith make a virtue of this emphasising a point, its rare to find a writer, particularly a debutant, who knows when to stop. In this she reminds me a little of John Lanchester or even Magnus Mills, but with the added virtue of a more colourful prose. Its got that strange nostalgia of the young, similar to Catcher in the Rye, where the best things - say, first love - have already happened and the future is not so much unknown, as on hold. Read more ›
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing ... 21 Oct 2005
By Ellie
I bought this book on the strength of the blurb, particularly the comparison to Denis Johnson, and the promise of a 'truly original new voice in fiction'. I was well disappointed on both counts. The premise of a dislocated youth adrifting in a twilight world has been the subject of fiction for some considerable time now, and has almost always been done better than this. Whereas Johnson's luminous work is, to me, drenched in humanity, this book is a pretty pale imitation.
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