The Meaning Of Night: A Confession

The Meaning of Night

So, this week’s book for my Book Club class is the massive 600 page hard back tome that is Michael Cox’s first novel, The Meaning of Night. This thing was 15 years in the making… and in my opinion, they were 15 years well spent. Cox’ novel is intricate, detailed, and exquisitely researched, and if probably the best thing I’ve read for this module so far. Okay, it coming along at the same time as me redeveloping an interest in steampunk, victoriana and historical stuff probably helps that, but the novel has more than enough goodness to carry it’s own weight.

The Meaning of Night is a dark tale of betrayal and revenge set in Victorian England, centring upon the life of the narrator, Edward, his discovery of his own secret past and most importantly, the way in which is fate intertwines with the poet and criminal, Phoebus Daunt. The is a heavy sense of fate to the novel, as the two men seem almost destined to be enemies. At early points in the novel Edward’s language seems to veer dangerously close to the melodramatic, and there is a feeling he may be over reacting just a bit about the wrongs Phoebus has committed… However, as the novel progresses, and the depths of betrayal in the novel are exposed, Edward’s theatrical bitterness is completely understandable. The final point of betrayal, while perhaps predictable, is heart wrenching none the less.

The narrator is a well balanced and interesting character, freely admitting his good sides and his bad. Considering that the novel opens with him murdering an innocent man just to see if he can, he has a bit of catching up to do in endearing himself to the reader, but Cox managed to pull this off, pulling the reader into the despair and frustration Edward suffers, as well as his hopes, across the course of his narrative.

If I’m going to be negative at all, I’d say that it’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever read, there are things that appeal to me more, but that is I think just a personal taste thing, because I struggle to think of anything actually BAD about this novel. Granted, my love of Lemony Snicket, which is often a pastiche of this style, made the some parts of the novel a little odd to read but that is just a minor quibble. Cox paints a beautiful dark portrait of Victorian England, with a stunning amount of detail and a very convincing voice. The story has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and enough dramatic irony to make some of the darker moments all the worse. Edward is an interesting and sympathetic narrator, and his darkness is shown not just the be that of someone a bit morally challenged (as interesting as those characters can be) but of an honest, intelligent man having no other ways to react against his misfortune.

So, in short, Michael Cox’s ‘The Meaning of Night: A Confession’ is a compelling tragedy that is superbly detailed, elegantly written and very, very readable.

And I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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