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The Meaning of Night: A Confession Paperback – October 17, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (October 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393330346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393330342
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #622,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This enthralling historical novel--set in London in 1854, cast as a confession, and written in the dense and formal style of a Victorian novel--tells the unusual story of Edward Glyver, bibliophile, photographer, and murderer. Ostensibly the tale of a man whose rightful legacy has been deliberately withheld, it casts a much wider net, and at its center is its vivid portrait of a teeming London, "brilliant and beautifully vile." That dichotomy is also expressed in the deadly rivalry between scholarly Glyver and his archnemesis, Phoebus Daunt, who is esteemed as a poet but makes his living by bilking people of their money through elaborate con games while insidiously cultivating the affections of the heirless Lord Tansor. Raised in near-poverty, Glyver gradually becomes aware of the fact that he is Lord Tansor's son and begins a years-long search for evidence, but he is thwarted at every turn by the wily Daunt. An intriguing blend of book lover and man of the world, Glyver becomes completely obsessed with his quest, which takes him from exquisite libraries to smoky opium dens, dank bars, and gaudy brothels. His obsession also turns him from a discerning scholar into a cold-blooded murderer. Cox invokes emotions, from the iciest betrayal to all-consuming love, on a grand scale and gives them an equally impressive backdrop as he depicts a fetid London, its streets filthy but its people in thrall to the smallest details of social stratification. A masterful first novel and a must for readers of Iain Pears and David Liss. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Michael Cox is the biographer of the ghost-story writer and scholar M. R. James. His first novel, The Meaning of Night, was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa First Novel Award. He lives in rural Northamptonshire, England.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Rennie Petersen on September 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of "The Meaning of Night" is "A Confession". And the entire book is indeed a long, slow-moving confession, written in the first person by a 35-year-old man in 1854.

The book starts with a 2-page teaser in which the confessor describes how he killed a man, an unknown man he happened to encounter on the street. Why? Because the writer of this confession needed to ensure that he was indeed capable of killing before continuing with his plan of exacting revenge over "his enemy".

The confession then jumps back to the 1820's, with the writer slowly but surely describing the complicated set of circumstances, the conspiracies against him, that brought him to the killing of the random man in 1854. Then the story continues to its inevitable climax.

The early Victorian era in England provides the background for the story. Morals were different in this age, with the rich and powerful having a very different concept of what was right and wrong than the common people, or the people of Western society today for that matter. Even the "good" people in the story (there are a few) sometimes act in ways we find disappointing, even though they were acting morally by their standards.

This Victorian background and especially the different moral standards play an important role in the story, and one feels that the atmosphere described in the book is very authentic. It's just depressing that everyone seems to be a villain in one way or another, and conspiracies are rampant.

The writer of the confession and the complicated story with several conspiracies against him and his decision to wreak a terrible revenge on "his enemy" do not come across with such a high degree of believability.
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75 of 82 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The publishers seem to have high hopes for this debut novel. If so, I'm glad to endorse their opinion of it and I share their expectations.

The story is framed as the account by a murderer of his quest for vengeance on the man who cheated him of his hopes and his rightful heritage. It is set in Victorian England, partly in seedy London, partly in the rural grandeur that surrounds the most venerable English aristocracy. This is a promising formula -- Sherlock Holmes and Dr Jekyll have never lost their fascination. However it takes skill to recreate the atmosphere convincingly in the 21st century, and Michael Cox, biographer and editor of the great ghost-story writer M R James, seems to me never to hit a wrong note. The narrative is tense and eventful, but it's all slightly tongue-in-cheek too (as James himself was), and rightly so. The manuscript purports to have come to light in Cambridge University Library, and there is a preface by a personage entitled the Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction at that seat of learning, together with footnotes as the story goes along. The Professor hints darkly at 'conscienceless brutality and explicit sexuality', but don't get your hopes too high if that's your kind of thing - what the Professor says is not wrong, but what you will find is not exactly what his phraseology might lead one to expect either.

The style of writing is very sure-footed in not overdoing the pastiche-Victorian idiom. It is kept at a nicely-judged level of suggestiveness, but you would never take it for 19th century writing. One incidental benefit of this is that when letters are quoted and Cox goes in for a more explicit attempt at reproducing the Victorian manner of expression the contrast is all the more effective.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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