Saturday, August 28, 2010
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
'After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.'
So begins this Victorian pastiche deliciously filled with foggy nights so wet you can feel the mist and hear the cobbles play a tune under horse hooves and carriage wheels. The story is a confession of revenge and murder by Edward to his friend, Le Grice over drinks and we're all in for quite the tale of intrigue.
Edward Glapthorn is raised by his mother who writes novels long into the night to provide as best she can for her son. There also exists a rosewood box containing 200 guineas left to him by a mysterious benefactor which makes his attending Eton a possibility. Once there he has the misfortune of befriending Phoebus Daunt, whose petty jealousy of Edward's attention to others drives him to an act with serious consequences.
Eventually, through his work in the office of Tredgold, Tredgold & Orr, Edward begins to unravel the shocking and previously unknown details of his birth. Some may find this chain of information and events somewhat coincidental but in no way did it lessen the thrill of the ride for me. We also learn that Lord Tansor, an incredibly wealthy aristocrat and married to his second wife has yet to father an heir. Desperate that he should have someone to leave his vast estate to, he visits Gray's Inn to have documents drawn up making the precocious son of the village rector his heir. One Phoebus Daunt.
That the man who was the cause of Edward being removed from Eton, thereby ruining any chance of a successful career, should inherit such wealth so easily twists the knife. Whilst mulling certain events and tidbits of information over in his mind, Edward consoles himself in the arms of an exotic lady of the night, Isabella Gallini. Though she gives her body to others her heart belongs only to Edward. On occasion, the irresistable pull of an opium den provides further distraction for our tortured man.
The vivid description of chop-houses, alleyways, shops and tolling bells had me desperately wanting to book a trip back to visit historic parts of London. An outing by Edward and the breathtaking Emily Carteret to St Paul's, to climb the numerous steps to the Whispering Gallery and beyond had me picturing how one would manage it in yards of fabric, full petticoats and bustle!
For the duration in which Edward seeks ever more clarification regarding his birth, he is aware that someone constantly follows him. In crowded streets there's a tap on the shoulder here or footsteps behind him in the dark there making for many an anxious outing. I wondered how I would sleep at night knowing a villain was just waiting for me to leave the latch unlocked.
Showing no economy with description, Cox takes his time arriving at the climax but it was well worth the wait. The last few pages had me riveted, hand on my chest, holding my breath and at one point shouting 'oh no!' out loud.
This story very much reminded me of Wilkie Collins, No Name, in which a character goes to any length to recover what is rightfully theirs. I loved that book and I loved this one every bit as much. Thankfully, in a state of sadness that I wasn't jetting off to anywhere exciting during a holiday last summer, I purchased both The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time, its sequel. Despite the first instalment being 600 pages I'm not the slightest bit hesitant to continue this story in the next offering...in fact, I can't wait!