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Monday, 23 April 2012

By Nightfall (Author: Michael Cunningham)

The Blurb From Macmillan:

Peter and Rebecca Harris, midforties, are prosperous denizens of Manhattan. He’s an art dealer, she’s an editor. They live well. They have their troubles—their ebbing passions, their wayward daughter, and certain doubts about their careers—but they feel as though they’re happy. Happy enough. Until Rebecca’s much younger, look-alike brother, Ethan (known in the family as Mizzy, short for the Mistake), comes to visit. And after he arrives, nothing will ever be the same again.

This poetic and compelling masterpiece is a heartbreaking look at a marriage and the way we now live. Full of shocks and aftershocks, By Nightfall is a novel about the uses and meaning of beauty, and the place of love in our lives.



My Thoughts on "By Nightfall":

I was very much looking forward to meeting Mr Cunningham, particularly as a good friend whose taste in literature I respect is such an avid fan of his work. This was probably a very good introduction, being a book which is neither particularly long nor particularly confronting.

Unlike many readers, I didn’t dislike the main character, Peter. I actually found Peter to be a totally believable, rather likeable, character. Sure, he didn’t tell his wife about her younger brother’s continued drug use, but, quite without the complication of finding himself physically attracted to that younger brother, Mizzy (Ethan, “the Mistake”), simply the raising of such a subject is fraught with difficulties. After all, Peter’s wife – Rebecca - adores her little brother, wants to believe that he is brilliant, that he is genuine in his expressions to begin a new life and career, needs to believe that he has abandoned his drug use, is aware that he is in their home against her husband’s better judgement. How, then, does Peter tell his wife that she has been played by Mizzy, that far from being the sophisticated New Yorker which she believes herself to be, she has been taken-in and fallen under the spell of a typical druggie, simply one hiding behind the mask of beauty?

Was Peter wrong to allow himself to develop the feelings he did for Mizzy? I think those feelings were not really homosexual at all; I think they were a longing to reconnect with his dead brother and with the younger Rebecca, to feel younger than he ever has, and of course to become the owner of an object of beauty which he could normally not afford; as an art dealer, the perfect young male is the absolute work of art. And Peter, of course - no different to Rebecca - is used callously by Mizzy.  

What a nasty little piece of work is Mizzy! I would put him into one of those special categories of absolute cads which we come across periodically in literature, somebody in whom you find no redeeming qualities. Hiss, Mizzy – I hope you grow a wart on your nose, one with thick bristles sprouting from it.

There were a few passages in the book which I thought absolutely spot on, as per:

Peter philosophising:

            “The problem with the truth is, it’s so often mild and clichéd.”

Or talking here about his parents:

“Their father, handsome but a little blank, unfinished-looking, vaguely Finnish, never fully adapted to his good fortune in marrying their mother, and lived in his marriage the way an impoverished relation might live in the spare room.”

Peter again, and this perhaps is the entire back-story to his infatuation with the beautiful Mizzy:

“He was the reliable, unexceptional one; the good-enough boy.”

How terrible to be thus described, or to believe yourself to be thus described.

Further on in the book, a paragraph quoted frequently for the simple reason it is so beautifully eloquent and elegant:

“Peter glances out at the falling snow. Oh, little man. You have brought down your house not through passion but by neglect. You who dared to think of yourself as dangerous. You are guilty not of the epic transgressions but the tiny crimes. You have failed in the most base and human of ways – you have not imagined the lives of others.”

I think that is one of the finest paragraphs I have ever read.

I loved the last line of this book, “He begins to tell her everything that has happened.” Did he really? Honestly? Do you believe that? Not sure whether I do or no.

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