The Meaning of NightThe Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not certain that I'm prepared to write this review yet. I finished the novel yesterday and I'm still savoring it. When I've read a book this good I can't start reading another book right away; I have a to wait a few days while I think about it and let it live inside me a while.

What did I think? Amazing. I'm not an expert on Victorian England so I can't vouch for its authenticity, but I can say that I was convinced. The dirty streets, the unapologetic duplicity of a man who is madly in love with one woman, but who will be with many others when the need arises; the drugs purchased freely from a druggist; the lush environment of Evenwood Park; the class distinctions that the narrator lived and breathed; all of it was very real for me while reading, too real at times.

THIS NEXT PART COULD CONTAIN SPOILERS. (I'm not entirely certain what that means or if it's appropriate here, but I don't want to be guilty of spoiling a read for somebody, so I'll choose safe over sorry.) It is a confession, so it is written in the first person. The narrator is not particularly kind to himself and he doesn't seem to have the psychological wherewithal any more to even try to defend his delusions of grandeur. After an initial betrayal by his best friend at school he later embarks on a quest to regain a title and inheritance of one of the greatest houses in England. He has learned - so he explains - that he is the living heir to the 25th Baron Tansor of Evenwood Park. But, he also describes his drug addictions and the exhaustion to which his body and mind are succumbing so that one has to wonder if the evidence he claims to have actually exist. Even the fictional editor of the fictional work warns that he is not able to verify much of what is written.

It's the bouncing back and forth from the passionate, delusional state of mind to the cool, conservative snippets written by this fictional editor that kept me entranced and that are going to force me to read the book again. As I said earlier it took a while for me to read. First of all, it's a large book. Secondly, some of the descriptions were so graphic and the confrontations so intense, and they rang so clear in my head that I had to put the book down for days at a time. Thus, while simply rereading the first few pages in order to write this review I'm reminded of things that I had forgotten, and now having read to the end they make much more sense. So, as I said, I will probably read the book a second time just to see how it all fits together. It's pretty tight; he ties things together very well. Perhaps I will be more critical the second time. But, how can you be critical of a man who has stated very clearly in the beginning that he has sought not truth, but meaning?

I think it's interesting that the people who have given the book the fewest stars have far more to say about it than those who have truly enjoyed it. Perhaps that's the way of things. Maybe they're justified in spelling out exactly what they disliked about the book. If it were me, though, I wouldn't spend my time writing so much about something that I didn't think was worth reading. But, I digress.

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