Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: The Meaning of Night

Title: The Meaning of Night

Author: Michael Cox

Publisher: John Murray

# of Pages: 598

Favorite Line: The boundaries of this world are forever shifting, from day to night, joy to sorrow, love to hate, and from life itself to death; and who can say at what moment we may suddenly cross over the border, from one state of existence to another, like heat applied to some flammable substance?

Rating: 9/10

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Resonant with echoes of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, Cox's richly imagined thriller features an unreliable narrator, Edward Glyver, who opens his chilling "confession" with a cold-blooded account of an anonymous murder that he commits one night on the streets of 1854 London. That killing is mere training for his planned assassination of Phoebus Daunt, an acquaintance Glyver blames for virtually every downturn in his life. Glyver feels Daunt's insidious influence in everything from his humiliating expulsion from school to his dismal career as a law firm factotum. The narrative ultimately centers on the monomaniacal Glyver's discovery of a usurped inheritance that should have been his birthright, the byzantine particulars of which are drawing him into a final, fatal confrontation with Daunt. Cox's tale abounds with startling surprises that are made credible by its scrupulously researched background and details of everyday Victorian life. Its exemplary blend of intrigue, history and romance mark a stand-out literary debut. Cox is also the author of M.R. James, a biography of the classic ghost-story writer.

It is no secret that I love to dig my teeth into a well-written, atmospheric historical fiction novel. Michael Cox delivers in The Meaning of Night. It is a long-winding story almost Dickensian in the number of coincidences that occur and reminiscent of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in the number of footnotes appended to the text (though there are not nearly as many as Clarke employs in her novel). I am positive that this book would not appeal to every reader. Many reviewers have justifiably commented on how long and slow it moves. This is very true- it is slow. But the writing, to me, is so evocative of the Victorian London and its society that it really pulls the reader in. The Victorians were (to be completely stereotypical) long-winded hypocrites with a great many vices. And Edward Glyver is a man of his time, so thoroughly Victorian in his ideals and his behavior. As a reader, I could tell that Michael Cox really steeped himself into the period he was writing about- he lived it with Edward Glyver, and it comes through in his novel.

It is hard to review this book without giving much of it away- when that is the case, reviewers often turn to comparison. I have already used Dickens and Clarke in terms of authorial atmosphere. Should I throw in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment? If a person has been wronged, and knows who has done him wrong, is it justified for that person to mete out punishment and vengeance as he deems appropriate? Or, even if it is not justified, is it understandable? That is the premise of this luxuriantly winding memoir, full of internal angst, rage and the very real desire to belong. Highly recommended.

There is also a sequel in publication, The Glass of Time. According to the author's website, a trilogy about the Duports is planned- very exciting!


  1. Sounds like an interesting book - I'll add it to my TBR list! Thanks!

  2. Anonymous1/13/2009

    I've had a copy of this on my bookshelf since before it even came out (an ARC I picked up at a conference) and have yet to read it! I really need to rectify that - thanks for the reminder. And I didn't know there was a sequel, I'll have to see if my library carries it.


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