on January 11, 2007
Author Michael Cox apparently took some 30 years to write this novel The Meaning of Night. Weighing in at 600 pages, it may take you almost that long to read it. Mr. Cox is the editor of The Oxford Book of Victorian Detective Stories and clearly knows the writing style of the period intimately. I have read a lot of 19th century literature and if I hadn't known that this was a modern book, the author would have had me fooled. It has all the requisite characters - the young man cheated out of his inheritance, the saintly mother, the kindly benefactor, the beguiling prostitute, the evil enemy, the beautiful chaste young lady, the mysterious deceased Lady of the manor, even the rotund housekeeper and the weeping maid. Mr. Cox has not only captured the voice of the time, he gives the novel the kind of pacing of a Victorian detective fiction, doling out bits of forshadowing information and plot twists, although none that weren't apparent to me. The novel touches on many things common to Victorian books: the notion of honour, loyalty, blood, true love all seen through the lens of the social mores of the time. Readers of modern novels may find it wordy, but if you are a fan of authors such as Wilkie Collins then you have a good read ahead of you. So sit in your wingback chair in front of the fire with your companion next to you working her embroidery, ring for the butler to bring your tea (or perhaps a very little whisky) and open the pages of the novel and let Mr. Cox work his magic.
For movie lovers - you might want to try Kind Hearts and Coronets (19490 starring Alec Guiness and Dennis Price which covers a lot of the same territory but with a lot more humour.
"After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper."
Who could stop reading after such an opening sentence? Cox's monumental novel is subtitled "A Confession," could it be that is taken care of on page 1? Not quite. "The Meaning Of Night" is a labyrinthian journey through mid 19th century England, from the dank brothel lined streets of London to the elegance of Evenwood, a luxurious country home. The story is told ala Dickens, rich with Victorian language and copious footnotes.
Our narrator is Edward Glyver who well remembers that the first word he ever heard used to describe him was "resourceful." He is that and more. As a youngster he was the victim of a plot executed by Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a fellow schoolboy. Edward was dismissed and sent home. However, we're reminded that "revenge has a long memory;" in this case, some two decades.
As the tale evolves, both Edward and Phoebus are rivals again. Following the death of Edward's mother he has reason to believe that his parentage is not what he thought it to be. Lord Tansor, master of Evenwood, is childless and has yet to choose an heir. Could that heir be Edward? This is a prize that Phoebus also pursues - not with honor we might add as he's both poet and shyster.
Lord Tansor's cousin, the mysterious and beautiful Emily Carteret, is also a prize that both men would win.
"The Meaning of Night" is a weighty read (700 pages) and a virtuoso accomplishment by the author. Those who appreciate Victorian thrillers will find pleasure in every sentence.
- Gail Cooke
on January 1, 2008
According to the dust jacket on the book, it took the author 30 years to write this novel. And it shows. The level of detail demonstrated in the novel is extensive. The numerous footnotes and comments from the editor show that Cox spent a great deal of time researching and writing his novel.
The trouble is, Cox goes off in many different directions. Too many directions. And a story that could have been short, succinct, and to the point quickly, ends up rambling on and on and on. The reader could easily miss the middle 200 pages or so and not skip a beat with the rest of the story or the plot.
Having said that, the story is intriguing. Anyone who is a fan of the historical fiction novel will certainly enjoy this book. Provided they don't mind reading 200+ pages of additional filler.
Wow! On every level this is an impressive first novel. It works extremely well for three reasons. First, it is an intricate and detailed mystery reminiscent of the writings from the mid 18th century when it takes place. Second, the main character's motivations are laid bare as the novel progresses in a clever, subtle manner. And lastly, the various sources of information that propel the story give it more credibility - diaries, affidavits, recollections add to the texture. I recognize that many have criticized the book for being too long and drawing out a resolution. But when you look at the bestseller lists, we fiction readers have largely been trained to expect books to be roughly 325 pages. In the case of The Meaning of Night, I found that patience is rewarded.
The novel flows at varied paces which adds to the entertainment. It is also varied as equal parts mystery, confession, and unrequited romance. The writing is both fluid and dense, I love his ongoing description of London as "the Great Leviathan, the never-sleeping monster in whose expanding coils I now dwelled." Another example is the author's Dickens-like description of one character, "You instantly saw a natural disposition towards goodness, his roundness seeming appropriately indicative of a corresponding completeness of character: that enviable, unaffected integration of feeling and temperament in which there is excess neither of preening self-regard nor impatience with the failings of others." And as good reading should provide, I learned new words and appreciated the author's use of translated Latin phrases.
Yet it is Edward Glyver's curious pursuit of Phoebus Daunt that intrigues. Is Daunt a true Moriarty? Or has Glyver found a clever excuse for his life's trials and tribulations? I invite you to find out - put on a fire, steep a tea or pour a scotch and settle into a tale not to be rushed.
As the story opens, we step into the world of Victorian London and meet mysterious Edward Glyver, intellectual, book lover, and seeker of revenge. After his mother's death, Edward discovers that everything he knew about her and himself was a lie; his real name is famous throughout England, but he must fight for the right to join that family. His battle involves murder and heartbreak and is an unforgettable story.
Edward narrates the story in the first person in the melodic, graceful, and flowery speech of a 19th century gentlemen. It is a captivating voice that pulls you into his dark and troubled world and holds you. We meet fascinating characters from the grimy London underworld to the heights of society, and uncover secrets from the past that affect Edward's future. Don't be put off by the size of this book; it's an exciting read, full of period details and charm and I found it hard to put down. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.
on July 29, 2008
Michael Cox does a fantastic job with character development in his novel. Making the reader care for the characters is not an easy feat to accomplish, and I feel he has done well in doing so. I felt connected to Glyver, feeling much of the emotions that Cox was portaying in his main character.
I enjoyed his writting style, as I felt there was good direction and flow throughout the book except perhaps for a few short passages that were however important to the plot.
It's been years since I've read a novel as interesting and enjoyable as this one. I look forward to Cox's second novel, as he suggests there will be on his website.
on October 19, 2009
The sheer size of this book I found a little daunting. But after a few pages I was hooked and the volume was no longer intimidating. As a matter of fact,now that I am on the last few pages, I find I don't want the story to end.I enjoyed the latin phrases at the start of each chapter and the explanations of unfamiliar 19th century references. Most of all, I enjoyed the story line.One never knowswhat will happen next.I enjoy reading about 19th century England and all it's nuances.Very descriptive. One is transported in time.The characters are well described.This book is a real page turner, as they say.
This is a wonderful, highly stylized work of historical fiction. Those with a penchant for Victorian literature will appreciate this book, as it is written in the style of the period with a great deal of thought given to detail. The book begins as a presentation to the reader by a University of Cambridge Professor of a manuscript discovered in the Cambridge library among some papers. As such, the professor has added many footnotes that serve to illuminate some of the historical and literary allusions and references interspersed throughout the book. This was a literary contrivance that I very much enjoyed, both as a history buff and avid bibliophile. The overall concept is really that of a book within a book.
The manuscript purports to be a confession of sorts, as it tells a story of friendship, betrayal, and revenge, revealing a secret that had a profound impact on those whose lives it touched. After reading just the first sentence, I was hooked, as the story begins with a cold-blooded murder. Set in Victorian England, the story is told by an Edward Glyver, who is seeking to avenge himself on Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a childhood friend whom he met while they were students at Eton. While at Eton, a wrong was done to Edward that would mark him forevermore.
The book offers a myriad of interesting characters and relationships that shaped Edward Glyver. The book is also rife with intrigues, coincidences, and secrets that deliciously unfold bit by bit, drawing the reader into the spider web of deceit that surrounds Edward Glyver, deceits that he is discovering and trying to unravel. The forces of good and evil are at work here, but who is good and who is evil is left for the discerning reader to determine, although such a determination is not always so black and white.
Peppered with memorable characters, as well as a gripping plot, this is a well-written book that will keep the reader riveted to its pages as the plot thickens. While some of the plot is predictable, despite its twists and turns, I still found myself barely able to put the book down, so I can do nothing less than to highly recommend this immensely readable book.
The Meaning of Night will provide hours of rewarding entertainment for fans of Victorian mysteries and romances who have a literary bent and love rich historical detail. Those who love character development that is built up carefully, one layer of patina over another, will also delight in The Meaning of Night. Those who love complex plots where characters interact in complex ways over long time periods will also enjoy being entertained by The Meaning of Night. Such readers will revel in 600 pages of richly woven material. One of the unusual delights of this novel is the way that Mr. Cox employs the books the characters read, write and collect to indicate what kind of people the characters are.
If you are someone, however, who rarely reads a novel longer than 300 pages, you may find that your interest flags after a strong beginning before the story's pace picks up again around page 190. The book is more about thought than action unlike many Victorian mysteries that involve continual physical confrontations, a quality that may make the book less appealing to some.
Michael Cox shows that he is well read and apprecaites good fcition. The Meaning of Night makes obeisance to master works like Crime and Punishment, Great Expectations, The Prince and the Pauper, "The Purloined Letter", The Sign of Four, The Name of the Rose and John Banville's The Sea. But Mr. Cox carefully avoids following any of those ingenious works in so much detail that freshness is denied to readers of The Meaning of Night. Every time I decided how the story would end, Mr. Cox would twist things around enough to prove me wrong and keep me interested.
The story itself is positioned as being a handwritten confession from Victorian England that is being edited now by a professor of "Post-Victorian Fiction", a typical example of Mr. Cox's sly sense of humor. References to literature, authors, Latin, and various places are more heavily footed than in most academic works. That slight fiction about what the material is allows Mr. Cox to provide a stronger sense of time and place than most readers could appreciate without the many notes.
Although The Meaning of Night often develops its plot slowly, the opening is as strong, direct and spare as a Dashiell Hammett work. "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster suppper." But the following pages are vastly less Hemingwayesque.
After that astounding sentence, the bulk of the book digs through decades of earlier events which are reported through research-based flash backs. One of the surprisingly pleasant features of these flashbacks is that Mr. Cox is meticulous in providing links in his story that make the flashbacks fit well into the overall narration's logic.
So what's it all about? Edward Glyvver is a man caught between several worlds. His parents died while he was young. Despite intelligence and energetic efforts, his academic path was cut short. Having little money, he must find a way to earn his own living. Glyvver employs the resourcefulness of a street-smart operator among the demimonde while being able to move smoothly among the gentry. The central crisis of Glyvver's life involves his passionate love for an ideal woman who is unattainable without money and position. Placed by Mr. Cox in that central vantage point, Glyvver sees and deeply understands the flaws and hypocrisies of the Victorians. But he also finds himself susceptible to the same flaws and hypocrisies. Ultimately, his dilemma relates to choosing who he wants to be in this highly stratified society. For anyone who has felt like they had been adopted, this story of searching for his roots will be moving and fascinating. To make this search more challenging, Glyvver has a dark twin, an evil nemesis named Phoebus Daunt.
Ultimately, the appeal of a book like The Meaning of Night rests on what you think of the main characters. I found Edward Glyvver to be a powerful and intriguing character, one that will long remain in my consciousness. Glyvver is also a sympathetic character, even when he acts like a villain, and many readers will be rooting for him. The lovely Bella, his demimonde friend, is also sympathetically drawn. Christopher Tredgold is another interesting character as he strives to square his personal ethics with his legal promises. Laura Tensor will also make an impression on you. Phoebus Daunt makes an excellent foil for Glyvver, and you will find him well worth despising.
Settle down for a delightful several hours!
on May 29, 2015
Enjoyed this and the sequal The Glass of Time.