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The Meaning of Night: A Confession Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 17, 2006
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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.
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*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
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Edward Glyver (just one of his names) was a completely fascinating character in the beginning of this novel because of his complete lack of remorse for what he had done. He was portrayed initially as being totally amoral, blinded to everything except achieving his goal. As the story went along, he did begin to show remorse for one incident in particular, but felt himself completely justified for every other unscrupulous thing. The major grievance he felt had been done to him made him rationalize that nothing he could do in retaliation would be monstrous enough to count act that. I began to lose the sympathy I had originally felt for this character when the author was not able to convince me that everything Glyver felt had happened had been an intentional slight or done to him purposefully.
The setting of this novel in the Victorian era means that there was a richness to the language which is not easily mastered, yet Michael Cox managed to keep this "confession" set very firmly within the language, social strictures, and physical parameters of Victorian England. This is an intense reading experience which takes much attention and commitment to do it justice. I did continue on reading to the ending to find out just what price Glyver would have to pay for his first completely random act of violence. I'm glad I read the book and stand in awe of the writing abilities of Michael Cox.
The good: This a page turning story, especially as it gets to the middle. I was interested in what would eventually happen with Edward Glyver (please see another review for a synopsis), but unfortunately, except for his final act everything I had anticipated came to pass. A bit of a disappointment ... One of the things that I did like was that the writer didn't go overboard in writing in Victorian style. Except for certain sections, which I write about below, the book doesn't bog down or become unreadable. It paces quite nicely.
The bad: Edward Glyver is one of the most unsympathetic characters I've ever read about. Michael Cox says in an interview at the back of the book that he tried to bring up bits & pieces about Glyver's past to make him more likeable. Didn't happen. Glyver is so pompous, self-absorbed, Machiavellian & obsessive that you want to smack him. In fact, I wanted him to utterly fail at what he was aiming towards (can't say much about that so as not to spoil). I have trouble completely giving myself over to a book if I can't sympathize with the main character. If you like character-driven novels, you're likely to be disappointed. Cox calls him an anti-hero, but anti-heroes have redeeming qualities that force you to like them & sympathize with them. That, for me, was impossible. In fact, there were only perhaps 4 characters that I actually liked, and three of them were quite minor with only one in a supporting role.
Despite the plot being interesting, although predictable, a serious flaw in this book is the boring discussions about books that go on for pages. I suppose this is to demonstrate that Glyver's passion is books, but it was completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the plot. Yes, Glyver is meant to be a bibliophile, a key part of his character. There are much better devices that Cox could have used to demonstrate this. I read the pages because I thought they'd be important ... none were. Skim these parts!
Equally as annoying are the footnotes that Cox uses. Again, you would think these would be interesting or informative, but they are nothing of the sort. What makes them annoying is that you feel obligated to look at them in case their MIGHT be useful. In the entire 600page book, maybe only 5 or so met this criteria.
I've written much more "bad" then "good," I realize. At the end of the day, the book is worth a read. Get it in the library or a used copy. This isn't the type of book that you'll want in your permanent collection, in my opinion.
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My comment, however, deals with the Kindle edition.Read more