The Meaning of Night

The Meaning of Night: A ConfessionThe story of the writing of Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night is an interesting one. Diagnosed with a rare cancer, Cox began to lose his sight. He had begun the novel in the 1970’s, but cancer gave Cox a new sense of urgency. He finished the book, which in my paperback version stretches to nearly 700 pages.

The Meaning of Night is the story of Edward Glyver’s quest for revenge against Phoebus Daunt, who robbed him not only of his Eton education, but all he holds most dear. The book begins memorably as Glyver kills an innocent man to be sure that he will have the resolve to murder Phoebus Daunt when he has the opportunity: “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.” Following his account of killing this stranger, Glyver tells the story of his childhood, including his expulsion from Eton, his employment with Christopher Tredgold, and his infatuation with the beautiful Miss Emily Carteret, the daughter of the 25th Baron Tansor’s first cousin and employee, Paul Carteret. Glyver uncovers the truth of his parentage and reveals his motive for wanting to kill Phoebus Daunt.

I read this book at the recommendation of my husband, and while I enjoyed parts of it, I had some major problems with it. First, I could find no characters to like. I didn’t feel much sympathy for Edward Glyver. He’s unlikeable in the extreme. He values the wrong things in life, and he spends his days in dissolution, feeling sorry for himself. He was indeed treated unfairly, but he certainly meted out the same sort of treatment to other undeserving and innocent parties. Another issue I had with the book was its length. The story moves at a slow pace, and I found it difficult to plow through the beginning of the book, particularly as Edward Glyver had given me no reason to be interested in or care about what happened to him. I am not sure what should have been cut, but I hate investing so much time in a book this long for so little reward. The story turns on coincidence, which normally I don’t mind and have actually used in my own writing, but for some reason in this novel it bothered me. It seems Alastair Sooke and I are in agreement on our reviews. What Cox does very well in this book is capture a sort of seedy underbelly of Victorian society and the sharp divisions between classes.

Cox succumbed to cancer on March 31, 2009 after finishing The Glass of Time, a companion to The Meaning of Night.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This book is my eighth book for the Typically British Challenge, bringing me to the highest level of the challenge: Cream Crackered. Looks like I have finished this one.

Well Read. tee-shirt on sale at the Decatur Book Festival, September 2009

Reading Update: July 1, 2010

Well Read. tee-shirt on sale at the Decatur Book Festival, September 2009I am in the midst of reading three books at the moment: Gulliver’s Travels via DailyLit, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (paperback), and The Three Weissmanns of Westport (Kindle).

As of today, I have read 80 of 115 sections via email of Gulliver’s Travels. My verdict so far: I am ready to be finished with it. My favorite part has been Gulliver’s stay in Brobdingnag, which might change before I finish the book. As I read, I find myself annoyed with Gulliver for repeatedly abandoning his family on what look like frivolous voyages to me. If I were his wife, I’d have divorced him.

The Meaning of Night is taking me some time to get into. I’m currently on p. 244 out of about 700. I am being patient because my husband says it’s really good, but it hasn’t grabbed my interest yet. My husband keeps saying it will, and he rarely gushes about books. I don’t think I can give the book too much longer or I will have given it too much for too little return. It does have a good atmosphere, and the author captures Victorian England well.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport is indeed Sense and Sensibility set in modern Westport, CT and New York. I like it so far. It’s full of modern pop culture references (Gawker, Oprah, subtle shades of James Frey). I’m not sure how well it will stand the test of time as a result. I think the author does more telling rather than showing, but I’m entertained and intrigued enough to finish. I’m 41% finished with it. I’m reading it for the Everything Austen Challenge.

What are you reading? What do you think of it?

Summer Reading

Summer is rapidly approaching. I have one more week of teaching, one more week of finals, and a couple of days of post-planning, after which my teaching responsibilities for 2009-2010 will have ended. Of course, before you tell me how lucky I am to have two months off (it’s not actually three), don’t forget I am actually not paid for that time. Most teachers are paid for ten months, but have their pay divided among twelve. Also, no teacher—let me rephrase that—no good teacher I know really takes that time off. Most of us usually spend that time planning for the next year, doing professional reading, and taking professional development courses or college courses. I’ll be doing all three. However, more time will also mean more time for reading. Here are the books on my radar (subject to change) for summer reading.

The Story of BritainThe Adventure of English: The Biography of a LanguageMedieval Lives

Rebecca Fraser’s The Story of England and Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language are on tap as I plan my British Literature and Composition courses. I have also checked out the DVD companion for Bragg’s book from my school library. Both books should help me plan my courses. Terry Jones’s Medieval Lives should add some dimension to studies of Chaucer next year.

In terms of professional reading, I plan to finish some books I’ve started, specifically:

Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do  About It The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching

Even if I am not teaching 9th grade next year, which is the grade level at which our grammar instruction is focused, I still think a solid foundation in how to teach grammar in a way that will stick and will make a difference in student writing is a good idea. In addition, I would like to try to read this book:


In this day of easy cut and paste, plagiarism is much easier, and I believe, more tempting than ever before.

Finally, for pleasure reading, I plan to select from the following:

I thoroughly enjoyed Syrie James’s second novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, and as a fan of Jane Austen, I look forward to The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I originally purchased both The Forgotten Garden and The Meaning of Night for potential reading for the last R.I.P. Reading Challenge. My husband is thoroughly enjoying The Meaning of Night, and he highly recommends it.

These first two books will indulge my interest in the Romantic poets. The first book, Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, explores the story of Byron’s own contribution to the famous writing challenge that produced Frankenstein and the first vampire novel. Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets explores the lives of Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats. As a child, I was extremely interested in dinosaurs and paleontology. Of course I want to read Remarkable Creatures, the first novel I know of written about Mary Anning, who discovered the fossil of an ichthyosaur and two plesiosaurs near her home at Lyme Regis.

The Little Stranger comes highly recommended from our art teacher. Emily’s Ghost promises to be an interesting novel about Emily Brontë: most of the novels about the Brontës either focus on Charlotte or broaden the focus on the Brontës in general. The Dream of Perpetual Motion will be my first steampunk novel.