Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

 Reviewed by Christina

Full Title: The Meaning of Night: A Confession

Published: 2006

It's about:  It's a mystery-thriller set in Victorian England.  A down-on-his-luck scholar named Edward Glyver confesses the multiple betrayals that led him, ultimately, to murder at least one person.  

I thought: The cover of The Meaning of Night has a scintillating tagline: "A secret buried.  A love betrayed.  A destiny revealed."  Those three short sentences didn't inspire much hope in this reader.  Why should a book need a tagline, anyway?  Not a good sign.

And that tagline does this book a disservice.  The Meaning of Night is actually much smarter and better-crafted than its cover lets on.  It's written in a mock-autobiography format, complete with a forward by a fictional modern-day scholar who has kindly added footnotes throughout.  I know it's a little gimmicky, but I still like the fake-relic thing when I happen upon it in literature.  And Michael Cox does a great job with Edward's legit-sounding Victorian voice.  So that, initially, earned him a few points in my book.  He earned a bunch more points by showing a huge knowledge base of the time and period.  I love seedy Victorian London settings, and The Meaning of Night is full of exquisite historical details: explanations of current events, slang, and lifestyle tidbits.  Cox does slip into the territory of pedantry, though; there must be at least a hundred footnotes in this book that give nothing but the location of a pub or hotel.  Not every detail adds to the story.

The narrative opens with Edward killing an unsuspecting stranger.  I know this was meant to be an edgy hook, establishing our protagonist as an antihero, but it didn't work for me.  Painting Edward as a murderer right off the bat made him a pretty distasteful character.  I didn't particularly want him to succeed, and so my interest in his story waned.  Given that this is a fairly long book (nearly 700 pages) with a complex plot and mysteries within mysteries, I consider an unlikeable narrator to be a pretty major flaw.  Also, little amusing detail here: Edward's girl is a hooker with a heart of gold and her name is... wait for it... Bella.

Overall, The Meaning of Night is a decent novel, but it's not my favorite genre and it didn't capture my imagination the way it intended to.  It's certainly not a waste of time, but not a must-read either.

Verdict: In-Between

Reading Recommendations:  This one is kinda wintery.  Pick it up when you want something mildly shocking to carry you through the dull cold nights.

Warnings: Some violence and sex, slightly more descriptively told than you'd normally expect if it were truly penned in the mid-19th century.  It's pretty tame, though, by today's standards.

Favorite excerpts: “Non sum qualis eram.” (I am not what I was)   (Wouldn't that be a cool tattoo?)

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?” 

What I'm reading nextAnarchy Evolution by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson