on 17 November 2011
I'm not going to comment on the book itself, as plenty of others have done so below, except to say that I personally found it an engaging and exquisitely composed meditation on what constitutes true beauty in our post-modern modern world - amongst other things.
But as read on my Kindle iPad app, I didn't find it very beautiful to read at all.
The electronic book is riddled with typographical and formatting errors, which would surely cause great dismay to Michael Cunningham, having clearly taken such care over his prose. For example every usage of "coffee" (which in a book set in Manhattan is about every page)the word is broken up into two non-existent words: "coff" and "ee". In fact every word with a double "ff" is split into two (off end, diff use) - which when you have a character called Groff, starts to get really problematic and way beyond the odd forgivable typo.
There are also:
Chunks of dialogue assigned to the wrong character through lack of a carriage return, so it looks like they are replying to their own question
Odd gaps and justification spaces throughout
I love Kindles and I like reading electronic books, but the lack of quality control in many of them is poor, and in this one particularly shocking.
DO NOT BUY THE ELECTRONIC VERSION IF YOU CARE ABOUT SMALL THINGS LIKE SPELLING AND LEGIBILITY.
on 9 February 2014
I was completely bowled over by this book, I hadn’t heard much about it, so, despite having enjoyed ‘The Hours’ very much some years ago, wasn’t particularly expecting it to be spectacular. Spectacular it is though, it is the best book I have read in quite some time, and I read a lot. The writing is incredibly powerful. I felt that I needed to read certain passages a number of times in order to fully appreciate them and grasp their meaning, but the writing is so good that re-reading parts of it was an absolute pleasure. I particularly liked that while some of the book is written in Peter’s stream of consciousness, some passages of which are quite complex, the book never becomes difficult to follow. Further, the fact that the complex stream of consciousness passages are fairly infrequent makes these more powerful when they do come.
Although Peter’s serious contemplation of a romantic relationship with his wife’s much younger brother does seem ludicrous, I did not feel that the idea was too far-fetched for the novel to be credible, as Peter’s disillusionment with his stale marriage and his career, his feelings of failure as a father, his long-endured grief for his brother and his growing awareness that he is no longer a young man are very believable, making it possible that he would be drawn to something new, however inappropriate this may be (not only is Mizzy young enough to be his son, he is also his brother-in-law).
I felt that the ending was maybe the weakest part of the novel, but, having said that, it is a realistic ending.
I definitely recommend this to any Virginia Woolf fans and to anyone who enjoys beautiful writing.
Living in Manhattan Peter and Rebecca are both involved in the art world, he a dealer and gallery owner, she an editor. In their forties, they have a daughter who lives away, a daughter they feel they have failed. Their own lives seem to be settled but routine, that is until Rebecca's much younger brother turns up. Ethan, in his twenties, know as Mizzy - the mistake, the wonder child of the family, the one they all doted on, but the one who has gone astray, into drugs and unsure what he wants to do, he has descended upon Peter and Rebecca with claims that he thinks he might want to do something in art.
His arrival, initially resented by Peter, engenders strange feelings in him; Peter is attracted to Mizzy's unnerving likeness to a younger Rebecca; and could it be the Mizzy is attracted to him too, and if so will they do anything about it?
I loved this novel, it is beautifully written, prose that one wants to linger over and savour, rich in description and brimming with atmosphere; looking deeply at the characters and their motivations. The conversations are exquisitely handled, thoroughly convincing. I am sure this is a book that I will be reading again.
Michael Cunningham makes much of the luxury of
self-absorption among Manhattan's monied denizens
in his splendid novel 'By Nightfall'. It is a taut narrative
of beautifully constructed set-pieces bound together
by the almost dreamlike web of associations and
reflections of its main protagonist Peter, a New
York gallery owner hovering a little way below
top dog status in this highly competetive milieu.
Much has been made of the story's kinship with Thomas
Mann's 'Death In Venice' but Mr Cunningham's depiction
of the interplay between Peter and his wife Rebecca's
manipulative younger brother Mizzy/Ethan differs from
the von Achenbach/Tadzio narrative in several crucial ways.
The predator roles are reversed. In Mann's book Tadzio remains
(thankfully!) out of reach and is unaware of his sinister
stalker's thinly-disguised obsession and intentions.
They never meet.
In Mr Cunningham's story, however, it is the younger man
who pulls the strings and calls the shots.
Mizzy, a duplicitous drug-taking drifter, who's brief stay
with his hosts, pitches middle-aged Peter's sense of certainty
on its back, turning his priveleged existence inside-out, is
a thorougly nasty, far from innocent, piece of work!
In some ways the dominant mood of 'By Nightfall' has more
in common with Arthur Scnitzler's 1926 novella 'Traumnovelle'
('Dream Story') where the interplay between waking and sleeping,
living and imagining, generates a strange, barely perceptible,
rhythm of almost hypnotic intensity.
'By Nightfall' contains some wonderfully drawn scenes, not least
of all Peter's late-night Downtown walk, where his attempt to
connect emotionally with his distant and diffident daughter
Bea, in a telephone conversation of almost heartbreaking pathos,
vividly demonstrates the author's grasp of psychological nuance.
There are some brilliant comic moments too! The description
of artist Victoria Hwang's gallery installation is a hoot!!
At the book's conclusion we are left to wonder what will
happen in the aftermath of Mizzy's perfunctory departure.
The impact of his stay has seismic repercussions for Peter
and his sense of self. It is a small world turned upside-down.
on 17 December 2011
Picked up this on whim and was amazed. What a slam dunk. Now it makes me want to go back and read
"The Hours" which I avoided because of the really dull movie. Having no idea about how clever this writer was I picked up this book and was just blown away by the writing. Felt like John Updike with some poetic prose in the service of a lost middle-aged man like Rabbit Angstrom. The author alludes to John Cheever in one part of the story so this might not be so off base. Loved it.
Peter is having a midlife crisis: presented with his young brother -in-law in the shower, he first mistakes him for the boyish woman he married twenty years ago, and then begins to fall in love with him, as the boy's youth and lack of ties (and resemblance to the woman he sleeps with) coalesce into a tantalising fantasy figure. We follow Peter as he becomes attracted to, fascinated by, hot for and finally in love with young Ethan. We watch breathless as he stands on the brink of giving up everything for the foolishness of youth, and then as the novel ends we follow him along the path to....well, you'll have to read it.
It's an occasionally frustrating novel. The first three chapters or so have some very odd writing in them, and little character or plot to pull us along; I was ready to give up. But then when the boy finally arrives, Cunningham is convincing in his portrayal of a man re-experiencing first love, and the lengths to which that can drive us.
on 9 August 2014
Michael Cunningham is a beautiful writer, there's no doubt about that. This book has not failed to live up to our expectations. The language he uses is so sentimentally linked to our own parts of self-doubt, self-esteem, self-acceptance and denial, our insecurities and embarrassing truths. The book explores the turmoil of beauty and the way it fades away creating a middle-life crisis in some people. Finally, there is the issue of marriage which unfolds into a romantic lifelong process but also as a procedure which can bring out the most hidden desires and forbidden unconscious desires on the surface. It is a masterpiece.
on 16 November 2010
This is a strange novel. It is so understated, I wondered initially if it would ever get going.
But it does, like a car with the hand-break off, creaking and then rolling almost imperceptibly, and then picking up speed as it careers distinctly out of control.
This isn't a Big novel, or a crazily ambitious one. It does not have the epic nature of A Home At The End Of The World, or Flesh And Blood, or the failed megalomania of Specimen Days. Instead it reveals a subtle Woody Allen-like insight into the strangeness of our modern lives, and again, as in The Hours, the beautiful prose of a Virginia Wolf novel. The result is gentle, unpretentious and surprisingly profound.
For a while at the beginning, I didn't think I was going to like this novel. I couldn't have been more wrong. Welcome back Michael Cunningham.
Michael Cunningham is becoming by far my favourite modern novelist. Poetic yet grounded, he has a wonderfully compassionate worldview that makes others - Martin Amis, Paul Auster, even Ian McEwan - seem harsh and pitiless by comparison. Just as "The Hours" was a gloss on Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway", "By Nightfall" in some ways follows the path laid down by Thomas Mann in "Death in Venice". A middle-aged man falls in love with an abstraction, an elusive sense of perfection glimpsed in a much younger man. Peter Harris isn't consciously gay; he's comfortably married and respectably employed as an art dealer. He's troubled, looking to escape his comfort zone, in search of something wild and transcendent which will help him define his emotional relationship to the art he peddles to rich New Yorkers. Meanwhile, his young brother-in-law Mizzy (short for The Mistake) is floating, intermittently addicted to drugs and unable to commit to place, career or relationship. Both Peter and his dependable magazine-editor wife suspect that saving Mizzy from himself - re-establishing him somehow within the currents that are sweeping the rest of them along - might somehow redeem their own faltering integrity.
It sounds complex, and it is in a way; the relationships are carefully interwoven, but so beautifully observed and described that we are never in any doubt as to the ebb and flow of emotion between these people as they work, eat, sleep, talk and make love. If you're looking for page-turning plot this is probably not your bag, but it's endlessly gripping because it leads us to sympathise with these people's hunger and yearning for something beyond the superficiality of their insulated daily routine. Yes, they're cushioned by money, even privilege - but their lives are neither safe nor satisfying. Death and disease lurk around every corner; a friend bravely dying of breast cancer, a boy teetering on the edge of an overdose, the gnawing pain in Peter's stomach which might be serious but serves to express his existentialist angst. Add to that Peter's barely stated suspicion that being an art dealer is no different from being a drug dealer, that he sells fake dreams to keep the money-go-round spinning, and you have the kind of problems that we can all recognise, whatever our occupation.
A beautiful, thoughtful novel which will stay with me for a long time to come.
I kept this book for a long time before reading it, imagining there would be a right moment. A cold winter's evening, and I finally opened it up, to find it one of the most interesting, haunting novels I've read this year. The atmosphere of New York's snazzy art scene is beautifully evoked, as well as the slightly claustrophobic, slightly lonely nature of the central relationship - a marriage, between Peter and Rebecca. The marriage is then interrupted by the arrival of Rebecca's brother, Ethan, a much-younger late addition to the family who has nonetheless already been to rehab and is immediately under suspicion for using again.
I particularly liked sections where Peter, an art dealer, has to think about the need to deal commercially, versus his desire to sell really great art. I really liked the 'coolness' of the novel - think that's probably what put some people off the characters, but I really enjoyed how carefully he constructed the reticent narration. As for being elegant - the whole novel hangs on an episode that is half so terribly romantic, half so cringingly embarrassing, that elegance sort of goes out the window. Wonderful.