My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Imagine you find a book that promises to keep you company a few days – being a 700-page tome – and it does more than that. It occupies your days and nights. It aids you in the disgusting addiction of nail-biting to the point you have less nail and more bites. It leaves you despairing, at the edge of your seat for being unable to read more than, maybe 50 pages a night. This is that book.
Michael Cox was seen as the ultimate authority on the Victorian ghost story. Spurred by the threat of blindness, he sat down and wrote the vast Gothic novel that had been haunting him for three decades: this one. The Meaning of Night is a widely praised narrative of intrigue and murder, set in London and the Northamptonshire region of England. The book begins with a striking, and since much-quoted first line: “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”
Upon reading it, certainly felt I was in a slap-up good read. Reminiscent of Wilkie Collins and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, The Meaning of Night is a page-turner at worst, and an utterly unputdownable novel with a supremely well-contrived plot at best. I admit it could have been shorter. At 700+ pages, it indulges the author’s weakness for lyricism, historical context setting, background stories, and sheer literary showing off.
In a review of the book, a New York Times article states, “In the midst of a 36-page deposition that appears two-thirds of the way through “The Meaning of Night,” one of the book’s characters (who sounds remarkably like the rest of the book’s characters) pauses to reflect. “Having put pen to paper, it has surprised me to find how difficult it has been to confine myself to the salient points,” he writes. “So many things push themselves forward in my mind for attention.”
This is an apt reflection of Michael Cox’s writing; his jargonistic Victorian phraseology, the excessive and often tribulative descriptioning, and a general verbosity that seems almost uncontainable. Imagine being out with a friend who simply does not stop speaking. And although they can be wildly interesting, after about 6 hours, you cannot bear their voice, much less their face. To add insult to injury, I will also add that the language, while delightful and quaint at intervals, begins to grate on the nerves after about 400 pages (imagine my patience). It is ornate, arduous, embroidered, and heavily affected. I am not finished: This mega tome groans under the weight of Latin chapter headings, erudite and sometimes entirely unnecessary footnotes on obscure bibliophilia and gratuitous trivia, almost rendering the novel something of an oddity. One of those things you may find in a dusty curio shop.
Edward Glyver, then Glapthorn, but in reality, Duport – but always Edward, assails us (often most pleasantly) with a lifelong (mine, not his) convoluted, circumlocutive, quest for his true identity and inheritance. For the love of God, Mr. Cox, let us be done with it already, I said at page 407. Having said this, am I likely to read the sequel, The Glass of Time? Of course.
Please let it also be known that Micahel Cox received close to half a million pounds, Sterling as advance monies for this book. So 700 pages it had to be.