Saturday, April 10, 2010

THE MEANING OF NIGHT by Michael Cox



Just about every review praises this book's opening line, and I have to share their enthusiasm. "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper."

You gotta admire a book that gets down to the brass tacks on the first page.

MEANING is the tale of Edward Glyver, a man consumed by a thirst for vengeance on his nemesis, Phoebus Daunt (don't you just LOVE that name?), who framed him for theft back in their school days and ever since has been the bane of Edward's existence. Of course, neither of them is particularly admirable; Edward, the narrator, is a cad and a murderer, obviously. Phoebus is no better.

But what makes this so readable is the lavish Victoriana all through. Taking place in the 1850s and earlier, the late Cox stuffs it full with details that never overwhelm the story. You really get a feel for the milieu, instead of just being told about it, as so many other books do.

It's also, in many ways, Glyver's autobiography, as he chronicles his childhood, his friendship with Daunt and then the subsequent betrayal, and his adventures making his way in the world. Of course, his quest for vengeance against Daunt leads to him making significant discoveries about himself and his background, which only give further motivation for his vendetta.

And one of the good things about this story is you see how Glyver's passions for vengeance, and later for the lovely Emily Carteret, end up in his self-destruction. While Phoebus certainly deserves censure, one gets the feeling the Glyver's vendetta is really against his own baser nature.

This is a rip-roaring read, a grand recommendation for anyone of the D&C mindset. Cox wrote a sequel, A GLASS OF TIME, that takes place twenty years later and deals with the aftermath of Glyver's actions, and had expressed a desire for a third, but his death from cancer just over a year ago put an end to that. That makes this story all the more precious. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Timothy said...

I posted Cox's obit from the NY Times a few months ago. Very sad story given his literary outpour... His Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories and Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories are essential volumes for any macabre library.