By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham

Once, when I was trekking around the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand, I spent an entire day at a hotel ignoring the opportunities to kayak, sightsee and gorge myself because I’d borrowed their copy of Cunningham’s ‘The Hours’. I seriously would not leave that hotel before I’d finished the book (I wasn’t inventive enough to think of taking it, or buying my own copy elsewhere). It was incredible and hearbreaking, and perfect– it seemed to crystalise existence and hold it in a solid place for me to read it.

So I was really looking forward to By Nightfall (due out in October). The idea is a good one that seemed to promise lots of that containing circumstance that drives the tension of a good ‘family relationships’ novel. Art dealer Peter Harris is a wealthy, good looking, upper class art dealer married to classy, intelligent Rebecca. Her family home is something out of Brideshead Revisited, and her younger brother, ‘Mizzy’ or The Mistake, certainly has many detrimental Sebastian qualities, including drug use. When he comes to stay with the Harrises to sort himself out, Peter finds himself falling in love with the young Adonis’s beauty, prompting unbidden memories of his similarly god-like, deceased elder brother.

The build up to this fairly insipid ‘love’ between Peter and Mizzy was fairly unconvincing for me, and the ending predictable. It was a book that assumed knowledge and interest in modern art – and though I have an interest in these things, the dialogues about specific pieces went on too long for me. Peter is an interesting enough character, and Cunningham uses him to explore the differences between a projected personality, and the private one.
In the end this is a novel about three people who are bored with their lives, and who don’t have the imagination to do anything different.And yes, some people live this way, and perhaps the book works as a warning to living this way, but really, I’d rather be reading about even slightly more passionate people in more interesting circumstances. To be honest, I forgot about the book the minute I finished it and put it down. I have good friends whose writing is far more memorable and moving, and none of them are even published yet. Ain’t that sad.

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~ by ConsanguineousMind on July 2, 2010.

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