Friday, April 3, 2009

Night Falls for Meaning of Night Author

Michael Cox, the publisher turned novelist who netted a record-breaking advance for his debut, The Meaning of Night, died this week at age 60. The author had battled a rare form of cancer for some years. Cox was born in Northamptonshire in 1948. After graduating from Cambridge in 1971, he went into the music business as a songwriter and recording artist, releasing two albums and a number of singles for EMI under the name Matthew Ellis and another album, as Obie Clayton, for the DJM label. In 1977, he took a job in publishing with the Thorsons Publishing Group (now part of HarperCollins). In 1989, he joined Oxford University Press, where he became Senior Commissioning Editor, Reference Books

In April 2004, he began to lose his sight as a result of cancer. In preparation for surgery he was prescribed a steroidal drug, one of the effects of which was to initiate a temporary burst of mental and physical energy. This, combined with the realization that his blindness might return if the treatment wasn't successful, spurred him finally to begin writing in earnest the novel that he had been contemplating for more than thirty years, and which up to then had only existed as a random collection of notes, drafts, and discarded first chapters. Following surgery, work continued on what is now The Meaning of Night, and in January 2005, after a hotly contested UK auction, it was sold to John Murray. [It is now available in paperback in the US from WW Norton.]

Some of Cox's most important literary influences were Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle, Sarah Waters, and George MacDonald Fraser (of The Flashman novels). The Meaning of Night is a literary thriller set in Victorian England. Here's the opening line: "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper." Fasten your seatbelts; you're in for a stunning ride.

This is what the author had to say about his first novel: "The Meaning of Night is a resolutely old-fashioned novel – not only because it tries to emulate some of the narrative qualities of mid-Victorian fiction, but also because of its simple aim of telling a good story as well as possible. I believe that the need to be told stories is embedded deep within us all, and it's this primal cultural urge that I've tried to satisfy in The Meaning of Night."

The novel tells the extraordinary story of Edward Glyver, book lover, scholar and murderer. As a young boy, Glyver always believed he was destined for greatness. This seems the stuff of dreams, until a chance discovery convinces Glyver that he was right: greatness does await him, along with immense wealth and influence. And he will stop at nothing to win back a prize that he now knows is rightfully his. Glyver's path leads him from the depths of Victorian London, with its foggy streets, brothels and opium dens, to Evenwood, one of England's most enchanting country houses. His is a story of betrayal and treachery, of death and delusion, of ruthless obsession and ambition. And at every turn, driving Glyver irresistibly onwards, is his deadly rival: the poet-criminal Phoebus Rainsford Daunt.

Thirty years in the writing, The Meaning of Night is a stunning achievement. Full of drama and passion, it is an enthralling novel that will captivate readers right up to its final thrilling revelation. The book was a finalist for the Costa First Novel Award and was named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, The Economist, and Booksense.

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