The Meaning of Night

by: Michael Cox
Audio book edition
Narrated by David Timson

Oh, wonderful! Just wonderful. I love it when I discover a book that won't leave me alone: it demands that I find time to read it, and holds me long after I should put it down and do something else (like go to sleep?).

In this case, I listened to the audio book version, so I found myself sitting in random parking lots - the grocery store, the hardware store - listening to "just a little more" instead of running my errand, or going in the house. I accepted any trip so that I'd have a couple of hours of uninterrupted listening time, and resented being called on the cell phone while traveling as it was cutting into my book time.

Yep, I really liked this book.

It is both a sample of, and a tribute to, Victorian fiction, written by a modern hand. I found references to several period authors - such as Dickens. Conan Doyle, and Wilkie Collins - in the narrative, and probably missed dozens more. This writer is a talent to be contended with!

The premise of the book is typically Gothic: a manuscript has been delivered to a publisher, and it begins at the point at which its author has killed a random, innocent person, just to see if he can do it, because he has another murder in mind - that of his sworn enemy. We also learn early on that while he enjoys a warm dalliance with a whore with a heart of gold, his heart is sworn to another, whom he can never have (presumably because of said enemy).

The rest of the book is the richly detailed history of how he came to this juncture, and why.

At first, I didn't like Edward Glyver, our first person narrator. He seemed cold and implacable and unlikable. As any of my readers will know, I object to books (or movies) in which I cannot find anyone to like: I am convinced that for a truly satisfying fiction experience, the reader has to care about the outcome. Second best to liking the hero is to see justice meted out to a bad guy, but the obvious best case is when the likable hero grows, changes, or prevails. In this case, I thought perhaps we were headed down that second-best route: Edward Glyver would get his comeuppance in the end. But the longer I listened, the more I came to sympathize with Edward, until finally I was as eager for him to kill his enemy as he was.

And Cox has created a complex and fascinating character in Edward Glyver/Glapthorne/Duport: fiercely intelligent, self-indulgent (whores and opium dens are frequent haunts), clever, bold, and even capable of noble feeling, he is neither a classic good guy, nor an anti-hero, rather more a noir hero served up Victorian style.

While the story lingers in the kind of rich detail that I so love in historical fiction (how did people dress, eat, tell me the sounds, smells and tastes of their lives... the more the better!), the plot nevertheless races ahead with twists and turns and infuriating setbacks for poor Edward, who, at the same time isn't exactly "poor" Edward. He is both the victim, and the perpetrator, the good and the bad, the hero and the villain.

In fact, we never really meet the true villain of the piece. I began to wonder at one point if the denouement wouldn't involve discovering that Edward had imagined it all, or was perhaps himself his enemy - and in fact, the villain is almost a classic Victorian baddie: slimy, rotten, laughing nastily as he throws the widow and orphans out into the street, and that said, Cox wisely keep him at arm's length. We see the results of his actions, rather than the actions themselves.

Now a word about the narrator: I am not always happy with the voice chosen to narrate audio books (it's especially egregious when the author chooses to narrate him or herself, and just doesn't have the skill), but in this case: bravo! The narrator has exactly the right tone and voice to make Edward come to life. David Timson can offer up a variety of voices and accents, but doesn't overdo it, either. He matches his pace to the storyline, and even manages to read the highly romantic passages (so veddy Victorian!) successfully. I see that Timson has narrated a version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a great favorite of mine, and I will be listening to that at my first opportunity.

All in all, a most satisfying book that will stick with you like a good, well-prepared meal - and certainly make you want to go back to sample more from that chef.


Popular Posts