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2020 - Shortlisted
Jacqueline Kent’s understated, beautifully rendered portrait of her relationship with writer Kenneth Cook flows effortlessly onto the page. In February 1986 Kent became Cook’s editor and by January 1987, she had become his wife. At first glance, it seemed an improbable love. Cook – estranged from his family, dependent on alcohol, insolvent and unable to surpass the brilliance of his first novel Wake in Fright – was almost twenty years older. But they were drawn together by their different literary sensibilities as much as their shared love of writing. For both, words were almost equal to life itself.
Kent’s memoir is vividly written at the same time as it exercises restraint and resists sentimentality. Her moving tale of love and grief resonates long afterwards and reveals how the time with Cook left an emotional imprint that lasted a lifetime. Like the best memoirs, Kent’s writing illuminates not only her subject but every character in the book, as well as the 14 heady months through which the couple lived. Kent’s nostalgia for the literary and publishing culture of the 1980s – a ‘lunatic, passionate industry’ – walks hand in hand with her undying affection for Cook, who gave his life to writing.