Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Meaning of Night: Michael Cox

Why did I like The Meaning of Night so much?

Was it because of the dramatic beginning?

After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.

Was it because it began with a murder, and then led to a second, more than 650 pages later, with a build up that was as riveting as it was detailed?

Was it because it had a multitude of elements—romance and revenge, murder and mystery, royalty and poverty…?

Was it because of a multi-faceted protagonist (of royal blood, a self-taught scholar, a bibliophile, an investigator, a charmer, a murderer) who assumes more than one identity?

For whom did I speak? For the orphaned Edward Glyver, with a dead mother and a father who had died before he was born? Or Edward Glapthorn, whom I had conjured into existence on learning the truth about my birth, and who was the possessor of two fathers and two mothers? Or the future Edward Duport, whose mother was indeed dead, but whose father still lived and breathed, here, in this great house, not a quarter of a mile from where we now were?

Was it because of the first person narrative, that helped me understand the protagonist through his multiple roles, his motive and his methods?

Was it because the author had managed to evoke the period (mid-nineteenth century England) through the language and the setting, without being self-conscious, pretentious, and overly descriptive?

Was it because of the humor (“I prefer to believe I was pre-destined for grace. It accords far more closely to my own estimation of myself, and of course it relieves one of the tedious necessity of always having to do good.”) and drama that made for such engrossing reading, notwithstanding a not-inconsiderable bulk of almost 700 pages?

Was it because of the detailed footnotes and a serious sounding editorial preface, completely fictitious, written by an editor, who is but a character created by the author? (Little wonder, then, that the book was more than twenty years in the making.) J. J. Antrobus, Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction, University of Cambridge is my favorite “character” in Night.

Whatever it was, The Meaning of Night was definitely worth the read; it was worth savoring.

Notwithstanding the fact that the protagonist (I prefer to call him that than hero) believes in “the instinctive powers—the ability to reach at truth without the aid of reason or deliberation. Mine are particularly acute; they have served me well, and I have learned to trust them whenever they have manifested their presence.” Consequent to which, even the villain’s villainy is not too clearly established; what we get of it seems to be based on the protagonist’s instinct and reading of a few landmark incidents in the narrative.

Notwithstanding the feeling that there could have been a bit more detail on the other main characters, especially the villain.

Notwithstanding the irritating typos in the edition I read (hardbound; 2006; W. W. Norton & Company).

To know more about the book and the author Michael Cox, you can visit the companion web site. But better still, grab a copy of the book and read it.


Marg said...

I have picked this book up several times and then put it back down again. Thanks for the review!

De Scribe said...

You're welcome, Marg. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.