This is the lesser known sequel to “The Meaning Of Night”, a former Book Of The Year which last year on re-read I placed at number 5 in my end of year Top 10. It is a book born from tragic circumstances – Victorian academic Michael Cox spent decades toiling over its predecessor, his debut novel, until, reputedly, steroids for an ultimately fatal condition gave him a significant burst of energy which led to the completion of two novels. This was published two years after the debut with the author passing away in 2009.
I actually didn’t know about this sequel until my re-read last year and my wanting to know what had become of an author whose debut showed so much talent and then discovering both the existence of this book and the author’s tragic demise the year after publication. Although the debut was more satisfying the two books together prove an extraordinary tribute.
“The Meaning Of Night” probably has the edge because of its stronger sense of the Gothic which I loved with an evocative conjuring up of the streets of Victorian London. The sequel is set twenty years later largely on the Evenwood estate which is also a significant location in the first book. Esperanza Gorst, brought up by a guardian in France, engineers a place as lady’s maid for Baroness Tansor, known in the first book as Miss Emily Carteret. Esperanza, renamed Alice by her new boss does not know the reason why she has been sent here, other than it is part of a “Great Task” set up by her guardian and her tutor and that she should record her observations of Evenwood. The details are gradually drip-fed to Esperanza in the form of letters and diaries which form part of her account.
As in the previous novel this is a first-person narrative which actually would work well as a stand-alone but enriches the first as themes and plot strands are developed. It is a long book, rich in authentic historical detail (although you do not get as much of a feel of the wider Victorian society as in the debut) and once again comparisons to Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens are appropriate.
I found it a very rich read and it might have just solved the problem which I have mentioned before of the details of “The Meaning Of Night” slipping away from me once I read it. Here the twists to the plot seem more vivid as the past and present reveal their secrets. As the main character observes towards the end of the novel; “I stare constantly into the Glass of Time, that magic mirror in which the shifting shadows of lost days pass back and forth in dumb show before the eye of memory.” Michael Cox is brilliant at creating these shifting shadows coming and going in the Glass Of Time. Both of his novels come highly recommended.
The Glass Of Time was published in 2008 by John Murray.