September 28, 2010

By Nightfall - Michael Cunningham


Spring has sprung in eastern Australia - a time I love because of the relief it brings from winter dreariness but a time I hate because it brings on my annual bout of hay fever and allergies which seems to go on and on and on... I typically lack all energy and enthusiasm during this time - even blogging has been a real effort unfortunately - and going outside is a dangerous activity so I have been diving into my reading as a way of comfort and escape - and thankfully finding some great books in the process.

By Nightfall, the new book by Michael Cunningham , has been one of those finds. I first discovered Cunningham through his amazing book The Hours earlier this year so I feel very blessed to be able to read a new work of his so soon after falling in literary love.

By Nightfall tells the story of Peter Harris, a middle-aged art dealer living in New York with his wife, Rebecca. For all intense purposes Peter's life appears to be travelling along quite well as the story begins, he certainly isn't as huge a player in the art world as he might like to be but he is making a comfortable living and enjoying a fairly up market lifestyle. His relationship with Rebecca may be lacking some spark after the twenty odd years they have been together but they have a comfortableness about them that seems safe and pleasantly happy - if occasionally resigned.

The story of Peter and Rebecca's present day life is interwoven with stories and reflections of their childhood and family life - all told from the perspective and focus of Peter. Peter is clearly smitten with Rebecca's bohemian and slightly eccentric upbringing - as compared with his dull, ritualised suburban childhood and he admits at one point that in marrying Rebecca he was in turn taking on her family - an act he wasn't at all unhappy about.

It is Rebecca's younger brother, Ethan, who come along to play a larger part in Peter's story. Ethan (or Mizzy as he is known - short for "mistake" - alluding to the fact that he was conceived 20 years after the then youngest child of the family had been born) has just returned from a soul-searching trip to Japan after his latest attempt to join middle class society had failed. It seems that in line with his name, Mizzy is constantly making mistakes (according to others) in terms of his life choices and unlike his siblings he has become trapped in a world of drug abuse and addiction and we learn that it isn't really a world that he wants to escape from - despite the protestations of his sisters and Peter.

It is through Mizzy's story and his actions that Peter starts to see his own life choices and plans reflected - and it is then that things start to take a turn - for better or worse??

I can't say that I fell in love with By Nightfall in the same way that I did with The Hours - but then, that was a very special and rare thing and it shouldn't take anything away from Cunningham's latest book which is a fantastically told story.

19 comments:

JoAnn said...

This is the first review I've seen of Cunningham's new book. I'll know not to expect The Hours, but it still sounds wonderful! I really enjoyed his older novel, A Home at the End of the World, if you want to read more of his work.

Buried In Print said...

I'm really looking forward to this one; I imagine it must be hard for a writer who knows that one of their books is so beloved and yet, no matter the quality of their later works, realize that they'll always be compared to that earlier wonder.

ds said...

The Hours is a tough book to follow. You do well by this one, however. I will have to check it out. Thank you.

Tribute Books Mama said...

Will add to my tbr list, thanks!

Thomas at My Porch said...

I think I vaguely knew this was coming out. And like JoAnn, this is the first review I have seen of the book. How funny that I find the latest in American Lit reviewed first on an Australian blog.

Karen said...

Hi JoAnn - It is definitely still a wonderful book - thanks for the tip about his earlier book too, I will have to seek that one out. I am just a hige lover of his writing style!

Hi Buried in Print - I can imagine it would be hugely difficult - a lot of pressure to live up to.

Hi ds - definitely a big act to follow!

Hi Tribute Books Mama - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Hi Thomas - that is funny!! I'm actually surprised by how advanced our book publishing industry is down here sometimes - we pay a lot for books but we do seem to get a lot of them in a timely fashion which is great.

Tamara said...

Thanks Karen, This sounds like an interesting read for the middle age soul searcher and obsessed refletor.. I thinkk I could like it alot. There are a few aspects that you mentioned that appeal to me - life in New York, the art world, a soul searching trip to Japan, a 'comfortable' relationshp of 20 years...real life is often so close to the fictional.

Kelly said...

I've never read anything by this author before. This book looks really good but if you really loved his other one more, I might start with that :)

"Coffee and a Book Chick" just told me about your blog! I really like it and am now following :) Have a great weekend!

Karen said...

Hi T - I think you would like this one - I will keep it on my shelf for when I see you next.

Hi Kelly - Thanks for dropping by! It is always great to me a new blogger!

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

One o the many things I love about blogging is how it makes the world smaller. It made me smile to think of Spring as we enter into autumn. I'm snuggling up inside not because of the pollen but the rain...

Paperback Reader said...

I can't tell you how desperate I am to read this ((even though -ha- I still have Specimen Days unread on my shelf) but it's not released in the UK until January 2011.

Karen said...

Hi Joan - I know what you mean! I have been jealously watching you guys enjoy summer - hopefully it will be my turn soon!

Hi Claire - that is very strange - I would have thought this one would be released in the UK well before Australia??!!

Jodie said...

Ugh allergies are rubbish. I hope you can find a way to stay inside away from the pollen, with your books. This is the second mention I've heard of Cunningham in two days and I think the world is trying to tell me something.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

i want to read this - like you, i loved The Hours, and I recently finished Specimen Days, which I also enjoyed.

After your review, I am really looking forward to it :)

Anonymous said...

In case some of you are interested, KQED's "The Writers' Block" just published an episode of Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Cunningham reading from his latest novel, By Nightfall.

http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/writersblock/episode.jsp?essid=37937

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