Goodreads Challenge – June, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

This is a novel written in modern times but in the very convincing fashion of a Victorian crime thriller. Michael Cox is a history buff of the era so he is a safe pair of hands. The story reads confidently enough, especially for a debut, but reading through the acknowledgements it’s obvious that this has been a long labour of love.

Edward Glapthorn, or Glyver, or others, is our protagonist who opens the story with the most convincing first line I’ve probably ever had the pleasure to read:

“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”

Move over Jane Austen! This is exactly the sort of opening line we get told about in writing classes. Grab the reader’s attention, get ’em wanting to read more. And Cox certainly does that.

The world-building is good, with a whirlwind of locations in London (eateries, roads, locales) traversed, often with a helpful Editor’s Note (not that such a thing means a great deal to me, to whom London is a big fog). But beyond that we are immersed in a cultural creation, too, which reminds me greatly of one of my favourite books, AS Byatt’s Possession. Here too we have a poet of the era, convincingly invented, with the irresistible name of Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. And this is our villain, who we barely even see, in a psuedo-Rebecca role. The first half of the novel is devoted to pursuing this man, though we aren’t given the real reason until partway through, at which point Daunt decreases his importance as an agent and instead what he is blocking becomes the bigger goal.

Cox succeeds in creating the typical Victorian style. Hot on the heels of being swamped by Radcliffe’s somewhat clumpy, clunky prose, Cox streamlines it, but only to a suitable point. In Victorian literature, a character doesn’t just leave a room; he admires everything, from the chaise-longue by the window to the writing desk made by the famous carpenter to twenty volumes on the bookshelf. and usually a nugget of information is concealed within all this description, something which throws a speed reader like me.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I read the last 100 pages on the journey down to Castle Combe in a hurry to finish it for the end of the month. At times Edward’s voice started to annoy me, but we were luckily provided with a short reprieve in the form of another character’s account. His hedonism and reliance on substances while he went through his existential crisis phase (or woe-is-me Harry Potter 4 & 5 phase) felt a little stale, but it fit with the obsessive aspects of his personality. The ending was quite satisfying (no spoilers here!). It only took me so long to read because again I had a few other bits to do and I took about a week off reading it.

If you like Victorian literature, murder mysteries or crime thrillers, I definitely recommend it. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for ages. I will also recommend the other book I mentioned, too, Possession by AS Byatt, as I love that book and it goes further to actually create the poetry.

Now I’ve taken on maybe a bit more than I can chew here with July’s choice.

I had a couple of non-fiction reads in the pile that I’ve been steering clear of and so I decided to pick one up. I love anything to do with the sea and one of my own books is going to be partially set at sea in a naval environment, so I’m on with Ben Wilson’s Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy. I’ve read about fifty pages and am really enjoying it, but as it’s a historical narrative it’s taking a good bit longer as I need to concentrate. The font is teeny tiny and a fair few things I don’t have a clue on. Why do all kings have to have similar names? So far I’m keeping up, but Wilson’s style is conversational to the point of being on first name terms with Edwards I – III, to the point where I don’t know which one is being talked about.

I am entertaining the idea of reading one of my fiction books alongside, maybe Lucky Jim, to give two months to read this mammoth beast of a book. I’m determined not to fail in my quest!

How is your reading going?

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My Goodreads Challenge – February Review, Burial Rites

So¬†February has been and went and true to my goals, I finished my book for the second month of the year, and this time it was Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for a good long time and never picked it up so I thought now was as good time as ever. I must admit I think my enjoyment of it was certainly marred by the fact I started reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and was utterly wrapped up in that.

Burial Rites is one of those books that was nominated for awards and was on everyone’s TBR list. There was a lot of hype and if everybody didn’t have a copy in their bag, they knew somebody who did. The story sounded compelling, and it fit into a perfect period of time: Nordic/Scandi thrillers, female-led murder mysteries. If it had been called The Girl in Iceland it might have sold even more.

Kent is only a young writer – one of these that have done Creative Writing XYZ and I’m not bitter at all (I half-wanted to do Creative Writing but everybody I spoke to about it scared me away from it with pitchforks and burning torches so there you go). The story is indeed compelling, about the consequences of a murder that has already happened¬†in 19th century Iceland, of all places. Like Colman’s The Rule, a young writer from my neck of the woods, the barren, cold setting is winningly created with effective, sparse prose. I didn’t like the font the book was published in, which is ridiculous I know but when that’s what you’re staring at, it can really bug you if the story doesn’t drag you in and overpower you completely.

And this didn’t. I found it hard to get into for the first half of the book. There were a lot of viewpoints to follow, and the wet assistant reverend wasn’t my favourite of characters to follow, especially when he missed a lot of the action. Agnes, the central character and the only one with a first person POV, was the most interesting, but even when she told us the truth of the murder for which she was convicted and awaiting the death penalty, I didn’t feel gripped by her story. Based on true events, the narrative was haunted by unchangeability, and that was purposeful of course, but it felt like hopes were being raised every so often, all for nothing.

Kent is a good writer, but I felt the two daughters of the family Agnes stayed with were underdeveloped, bit players in the calm before the storm. Their mother was the strongest character, plagued by a cough, and I was happy she didn’t die in the end. As a newbie to farming, it was comforting to read familiar events and tasks in a cold, unforgiving environment. I think our technology on the farm isn’t much more advanced than theirs!

I haven’t picked my March book yet but it will be something short as I’m a little pressed for time. I’m trying to finish my own book before the end of the month plus we have a lot going on at the farm. I also started re-reading Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin (Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool) after I finished Burial Rites, ready to start on Book 2 soon. Robin Hobb is one of my favourite writers, not just fantasy but overall. I’ve read lots of her trilogies and series, but I think Fool’s Assassin has been the hardest to get into. Fitz as a narrator is always compelling and sucks you into both his world and his thoughts, however in this book not a great deal happens over the first half. A plot point is introduced in chapter 1 and not picked up again, and instead we spend a lot of time with Fitz and Molly, and later Bee, in their home life. If I remember rightly, action picks up again, and I’m excited to see where that leads.

A Tale for the Time Being – Review

I do believe that sometimes we read books at a particular point in our lives for a reason – whether it reflects something within us, or something we are looking for. I’m heavily in the re-drafting process of my first book and I think I needed to read something awe-inspiring, just to really inject that spark back into it. This book turned out to be Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

Continue reading “A Tale for the Time Being – Review”

My Reading Challenge 2017 – January recap

So at the beginning of this year I decided I would read more. I have three houses full of books now and it’s high time some of them got read! So I set myself a relatively easy goal: 12 books in the year, 1 book a month. I went through my bookcase in my house and picked 12 books. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. Some are brand new, some are second-hand shop finds. The idea is to read 1 a month. If I finish that month’s book early, I won’t read the next one for the month. Then I’ll have to pick another book up. A good solid plan.

January’s book was The Magicians by Lev Grossman. A former coworker of mine used to rave about this book and I thought it sounded right up my street: a magic university? What happens when Harry does his degree. I’m a big fantasy fan and I like me a good bit of magic realism too, so I was happy to start off with this one. Continue reading “My Reading Challenge 2017 – January recap”