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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/16/2006 Archived Entry: "Book Review: The Meaning of Night: A Confession"

The Meaning of Night: A Confession
By Michael Cox
Published W.W. Norton
Publication date: September 2006

Review by Kathryn Ramage

This novel starts with a murder, but not the murder our first-person narrator and protagonist Edward Glapthorne plans to commit. This killing is of an anonymous man Glapthorne has followed through the streets of London, as a sort of dress rehearsal for the murder he truly intends, a poet named Phoebus Rainsford Daunt.

From there, we are led through the labyrinthine backstory of Edward Glapthorne's life, leading up to that murder: his childhood, his first encounter with his mortal enemy when both were young boys at Eton, how he begins to investigate the mystery behind his birth and true lineage, and how he meets the woman he loves. There is also a subplot about a note Glapthorne has received, indicating that someone saw him commit the murder and his attempts to find out who this person is, before he murders Daunt.

The story is presented as a recently-discovered confession written by a Victorian gentleman. It's a picture of mid-Victorian England straight out of a novel of the period, populated with blustering baronets, kindly country clergy and their daughters, secretive lawyers, ruffians and harlots (there is a little more sex than you'd see in a true Victorian novel). The author captures the language and attitudes of the era convincingly. Glapthorne never sounds like a modern man in fancy dress--something I find particularly irritating in period novels and films. The entire story is also interlaced with a knowledge of old books and early printing; many pages contain erudite footnotes on the subject, as well as on other obscure details of mid-Victorian life. It's all very well researched, as well as a fascinating read.

And, when we finally find out what exactly Phoebus Daunt did to Glapthorne to earn such hatred, murder seems entirely understandable if not perfectly justifiable.

Glapthorne very easily gains our sympathy as he tells his story, except that the murder of that anonymous man at the very beginning casts a shadow over everything else that happens, before and afterwards; it's never forgotten by the reader, nor the narrator.

Replies: 1 Comment

I hate how so many historical novels are written in a modern voice, too! Nice to see someone with a similar view.

Posted by Angie @ 08/23/2006 04:43 PM PST

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