The singular product of a revivification of the best tradition of nineteenth century literature, The Meaning of Night tells an extraordinarily gripping tale of love, misfortune, villainy, betrayal, and, one must concede, fate unbowed. Thirty years from conception to publication, this is a true example of modern literature that achieves a remarkable depth of feeling even as it takes its readers on an immensely complicated journey through the darkness of the human soul. Michael Cox's dedication to historical detail fairly brings nineteenth-century London and its environs to remarkably poignant life, forming a most vivid backdrop to a story that draws you in more and more with each succeeding chapter. The story itself is a confessional biography of a most unfortunate denizen of mid-nineteenth-century Victorian England, and indeed it reads as if it were written contemporaneously with the great works of Charles Dickens. While this detailed, literary style may not appeal to those modern readers who merely peruse disposable novels for the sole purpose of fleeting entertainment, I feel it makes for the most penetrating, thoroughly immersive of reads and definitely allows for the most elaborate and effective approaches to character development.

The protagonist of The Meaning of Night is a most formidable, unforgettable character, someone who seems to represent so much of the human condition in his solitary soul. While our initial encounter with this fellow does not exactly awaken pangs of camaraderie, he soon becomes the most sympathetic of characters, a man wronged far beyond the pale. While we all know it is wrong to truly hate another person, how could Edward Glyver not hate the man he recognizes as his nemesis? He blames this man, the celebrated poet Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, for the deliberate ruination of his life and future on far too many occasions to be coincidence. Since the narrator of this mystifying confession seems in no way a madman, one cannot help but acquiesce to his personal belief that cruel fate has bound these two men together for its own pernicious reasons.

Glyver's enmity toward this one-time friend began in the characters' youth, with Glyver blaming Daunt for his sudden and unwarranted dismissal from school, an injustice that naturally thwarted the young man's planned course for the future. Eventually, Glyver comes to blame Daunt for stealing his very past as well as his future, taking away from him everything he ever deserved and wanted. The real mystery of this story begins in the years following the death of Glyver's mother. While reading through her journals, Glyver first touches upon a revelation of the most life-changing kind. Learning that his true history may be something quite different from what he has always believed, Glyver combines his ardent desire for revenge against Daunt with a wholehearted attempt to find the evidence that will secure him the birthright he now knows should be his by legal right. As the drama unfolds, both objectives follow converging paths that lead to a seemingly unavoidable, inarguably tragic climax.

Cox sews an immense number of characters and plot lines together with the skills of a master surgeon of the written word, transforming even the most mundane of incidents into shockingly effective revelations. The final hundred pages contain many a gut-wrenching moment, especially one involving betrayal of the most devastating kind - which only makes the reader all the more determined to follow Glyver's story through to the bitter end. One cannot help but be drawn completely into this vibrant Victorian atmosphere, swarming as it is with the most fascinating and inscrutable characters playing their own mysterious parts in this endlessly fascinating tale.

To me, this novel has overtones of both Dickens and Dostoyevsky, and I would be hard pressed to come up with a more enthusiastic endorsement of any work of fiction. If there is any such thing as an instant classic of literature, The Meaning of Night is it. I could discuss the emotional vagaries and poignant revelations of this novel for hours on end, but I would not dare deny the potential reader of the opportunity to immerse himself or herself in this fascinating novel the same way I did - with no foreknowledge as to any of the story's revelations and emotional upheavals. If you harbor the slightest appreciation for the unparalleled power and beauty of the written word, you will want to immerse yourself in the pages of The Meaning of Night .

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