Monday, March 15, 2010

Cox, Michael: The Meaning of Night

This novel has taken me several months to finish, partly because of its dense weave and partly because its size limited the
times when I was able to read it. A very atmospheric Victorian Gothic style work, it starts with the protagonist carrying out a murder simply to establish that he is able to do so. From here it returns to his childhood, his schooling where his arch-enemy is introduced, into his adult life where he gradually becomes aware of his real identity - the reason for his wanting to commit murder. Although I read it in small doses, the slow development of the plot and the detail of the writing made this
acceptable as the actual story could be told in one or two sentences if all the embellishments were removed. A rather unusual feature of the book is the use of footnotes to explain or augment the text in various ways - details of the London of the time, e.g. the Clarendon Hotel is mentioned with the footnote stating it was on Bond Street, the slang and criminal jargon
of the period, a lot of bibliographical detail and references to literary and biblical quotations. Once the basic premise that is the start of the plot is accepted, the rest of the story follows more or less logically though not straightforwardly as there are
several detours on the way. Move the whole story forward a century, changing the detail and removing the more arcane
passages, and the book could almost be transformed into one of the classic thrillers by Woolrich or Hammett. A very good
book indeed.

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