Timothy Hallinan's Reviews > The Meaning of Night

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
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May 15, 11

Read in May, 2011

Michael Cox was an expert on the Victorian short story and especially on ghost stories who turned out a biography and many articles but always wanted to write a novel. In 2004 he began to lose his sight to vascular cancer and immediately began working on the book he'd been thinking about for decades: The Meaning of Night. It's a rip-snorter that begins, "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper." What follows is dizzyingly plotted, totally convincing, a panorama of fog and shadow and gaslight where no one and nothing is who or what it seems. For those who like the period, this is one of the best modern attempts to conjure it up, and if you enjoy it, Cox turned out an equally vertiginous sequel, The Glass of Time, before succumbing to the disease in 2009. Cox thus earned admission to the short list of those who had a massive burst of creative energy upon learning they might not live much longer. The most famous member of the group is probably Anthony Burgess, who, informed he had a terminal brain tumor, immediately cranked out four novels before learning he'd been misdiagnosed. There must be a lesson there somewhere.

(The Burgess story, recounted thousands of times, may not be true, I'm sorry to say.)
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