The Meaning of Night
I good friend of mine once told me that after he finishes a book he sends it to another friend so that they can enjoy it. Though I like this idea I could never do it. When I read a book that I really like I must keep it. It then lives on my book shelf with my other cherished books collecting dust until I come around to clean it off, hold it in my hand and think about the words with in its covers. I love coming back to books after I have read them. Sometimes I’ll read the entire book again, but then sometimes I’ll read only a few lines or not read a single word. I’ll hold the book and remember the imagination it gave to me.
The Meaning of Night is a book that I loved from the first time I saw the title. The meaning of night, what is its meaning? The blank canvass for our imagination is what I have always thought. For those of you who likedThe Nature of Monsters this is another book I think you will find can scratch that 19th century-victorian-gothic itch.
It is a story that begins with a murder and the opening line “After killing the red-haired me, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.” Yes, this is a story told from the point of view of a murderer, Mr. Edward Glyver. As the story progresses he describes for us in detail how he committed the murder. I tell you this because I have read that the biggest problem most readers have found in this novel is the fact that it is written in the first person and that person is a murderer. Do not worry this does not spoil the story.
The narrator is a cold blooded killer who is out to destroy the man whom he claims destroyed his own life, Mr Phoebus Daunt. The first murder is only practice to see if he has the strength to kill another human being. I know that some people do not care to read more about such a character and I admit that the reason why I do not finish most books that I dislike is because I do not like the main character, but here is how I see. Though I do not care so much for the narrator I do find him very interesting and I want to know why he wishes to murder Daunt. The narration and the emotion of the narrator reminds me of what I most enjoyed in reading the thoughts of the killer in Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart.”
Michael Cox is an expert on 19th century gothic literature as well as the Victorian world. Like The Nature of Monsters this story feels as if it were written by someone from the period. The words and how they are used are methodical and for me they bring back so much imagination that was given to me from reading other stories from the time period.
And why is it gothic? Setting and location.
For the readers of the 21st century the world of the 19th century feels somewhat like a haunted castle. In our minds the streets are alight with oil lamps that cast oily shadows on the dirty cobblestone streets guarded by bobbies who use their whistles to echo out a crime into the night. It is a world that is mostly unknown to us other than the structures that are still standing for us to see and the stories that have survived for us to read. The rest of the detail we must filled in with our own imagination. For all good writers their words end where our imagination begins.
Two years I bought a copy of Cox’s second book, Glass of Time. I have not yet read it, but when I set out to write this entry I read the back of the book and learned that Michael Cox died at the age of 60 in 2009. In this world I could not believe that his death had remained unknown to me. What is most remarkable is how his death influenced The Meaning of Night.
For thirty years he had been dreaming up this story, taking notes and developing his characters in his imagination. But his own self-doubt stood in his way. His love and respect for authors such as Dickens and Conan Doyle gave him a feeling that he could not hope to write with such talent and prose. As he said, “I wasn’t confident that I could do it, and I couldn’t do it for 30 years.” Then in the early ninety’s he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment to have tumors removed from his nasal cavity, brain and spine. As the cancer spread he began to lose his eye site. Rather than give up he set out to write his first novel, which became a mega success.
One of my favorite short story authors is M.R. James, who is known for his 19th century ghost stories. If you have not had the chance to read them, please do and you will not be disappointed. I found a collection of his stories while I was traveling in Belfast five years ago. The book was hidden in an used bookstore with the price mark of one pound. In my research of Michael Cox I discovered that he was one of the leading experts of M.R. James and had written a book on James and his tales of the macabre. Surprised by this fact I checked inside the book of ghost stories and there on the page for suggested further readings I found “M. Cox: M.R. James: An Informal Portrait 1983.”
To this day this is my favorite collection of short stories beating out Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury’s The October Country. It sits today on my shelf next to Cox’s two stories all waiting to be read, held, dusted and reread ever October just before Halloween.
For more about Michael Cox and his death click here.