The Meaning of Night: A Confession
Michael Cox’s debut novel is a darkly atmospheric and very gothic tale of wrath, nemesis, and self-destruction: a 600- page journey through the claustrophobic confines of a raving man’s mind. The story opens with Edward Glyver murdering an innocent man in rehearsal for his long-awaited showdown with arch-enemy Phoebus Daunt, who has plagued him since both of them were schoolboys. An evil prank of Daunt’s resulted in Glyver’s being thrown out of Eton and ruined his chances of going on to Cambridge. However, a mysterious benefactress left orphaned Glyver enough money to study in Heidelberg and travel in luxury around Europe. He might have led a comfortable life were it not for his obsession with revenge.
With the help of his scheming stepmother, Daunt, though not of noble birth, insinuates himself as the heir apparent to fabulously wealthy and childless Lord Tansor. Glyver then discovers that he was adopted and that his deceased benefactress was, in fact, his true birth mother and none other than Lord Tansor’s first wife, who concealed her son’s existence from his father. This discovery drives Glyver’s bloodlust to a fever pitch. Daunt, meanwhile, will stoop to any trick to eliminate Glyver before he can gather evidence to prove that he is the rightful heir. This all builds up to a brutal end-game.
Such a contrived plot could easily be forgiven in the context of a well-wrought Victorian melodrama. However, Glyver, bent on murder and selfish gain, hardly invites sympathy, yet he lacks the seductive underdog glamour of a successful anti-hero. The book is research-heavy to the point of being ponderously overwritten in places. All in all, the novel could have done with a lighter touch.