A Review of The Meaning of Night A Confession by Michael Cox
The atmosphere of Bleak House, the sensuous thrill of Perfume, and the mystery of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell all combine in a story of murder, deceit, love, and revenge in Victorian England...
So begins the story of Edward Glyver, booklover, scholar, and murderer. As a young boy, Glyver always believed he was destined for greatness. A chance discovery convinces him that he was right: greatness does await him, along with immense wealth and influence. Overwhelmed by his discovery, he will stop at nothing to win back a prize that he knows is rightfully his.
Glyver's path to reclaim his prize leads him from the depths of Victorian London, with its foggy streets, brothels, and opium dens, to Evenwood, one of England's most beautiful and enchanting country houses, and finally to a consuming love for the beautiful but enigmatic Emily Carteret. His is a story of betrayal and treachery, of death and delusion, of ruthless obsession and ambition. And at every turn, driving Glyver irresistibly onward, is his deadly rival: the poet-criminal Phoebus Rainsford Daunt.
My Thoughts on The Meaning of Night
‘The Meaning of Night’ is a first person confession of a murderer who takes you on a journey through the foggy streets of Victorian London while he sets out on his murder rampage during the year 1854.
“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”
This is the opening sentence of the first page spoken by protagonist and narrator, Edward Glyver. He is really quite a horrible person. He is a murderer. He changes his surname and uses pseudonyms per murder of which there are numerous. He cheats on the woman who loves him, develops an obsession with his enemy, Phoebus Rainsford Daunt and becomes increasingly dependent on opium, making him an amusing narrator at times.
The plot is familiar to anyone who has read Victorian fiction. ‘The Meaning of Night’ is a story of love, betrayal and deceit, revolving around a lost inheritance and a childhood rivalry. A vast country estate, a beautiful, mysterious heroine, and the dark, foggy streets of 19th century London combine to make this a clever imitation of the Victorian sensation novel. A guilty passion of mine and one that I indulge in at every possible moment!
Michael Cox uses footnotes throughout 'The Meaning of Night' in homage to Wilkie Collins’s'The Woman in White'; an obvious influence on his writing style and characterization. The footnotes in 'The Woman in White' add a dimension of believability providing readers with fascinating character and place anecdotes. However, when Michael Cox uses footnotes, they seem to add very little purpose other than an attempt to provide a more genuine Victorian authenticity. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not!
Yes, there are multi-plots, twists and turns, and the ending is open-ended leaving room for a sequel second novel, ‘The Glass of Time’. I should have hated 'The Meaning of Night'. I should have lost patience with its obviousness in tone, dialogue and content but I didn’t.
This is not a Victorian thriller where you have to solve the murder to find out who the murderer is and why it happened. This is a story cleverly told and beautifully written; where you know who the murderer is, who the victims are and some of the how and why they happened! So, why keep reading? It’s a manuscript format remember…clues are provided…the reader solves a puzzle chapter by chapter, piece by piece.
Michael Cox brilliantly flips the archetype of Victorian fiction so the answers his character provides, makes the reader ‘need’ to discover if their questions are correct! Have I lost you yet? Trust me on this one, if you are looking for an intelligent cohesive story set in Victorian London with humor than this one just might be for you! Remember, there is a second novel following so the ending of 'The Meaning of Night' leaves you guessing and wanting to know more…especially about his female obsession…
An excerpt of a poem, 'From the Persian' printed in Daunt's Rosa Mundi and other Poems, 1854, is included in 'The Meaning of Night' and I'd like to end my review with it.
The Night has come upon me,
No more the breaking day,
No more the noontide's glare
No more the evenings ray
Soft as lover's sighs.
For Dearth is the Meaning Of Night;
The eternal shadow,
Into which all lives must fall,
All hope's expire.
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