Finding the Truth in the Dark

I am here to review Ian Marchant’s most recent book, Something of the Night. I will tell you about it. I promise.

But first…

I have stressed and stressed about this assignment. In December, I responded to Simon & Schuster UK’s request for writers (ok, bloggers) to review upcoming new releases. The request was on Twitter so the application was short – it had to be under 140 characters. When I received confirmation I was chosen to review a book, I was very excited. Trying to make my way in the literary world, I poured over book reviews from the New YorkerThe Guardian, The Millions and other highly respected locations. I read some academic templates for book reviews from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford University in California. I wanted to be prepared and I wanted to be good.

I promise, especially to Mr. Marchant, there is a point to all of this. I will write about your new book…

I wracked my brain trying to think of ways to send the message that I wanted to be taken seriously as a book reviewer. I wanted to write something about the unknown book I was eagerly waiting for in the post. I wanted it to be meaningful, thoughtful and worthy of notice. The package from London arrived just before the holidays break and I was ready. I jumped in and steadily went through the book, jotting down notes as I did. Throughout the assignment, I tried to maintain my journalistic objectivity, be consistent in my bookish analysis, and thought about clever ways to wow the literary world with my new, fresh point of view.

But, things never go as planned. The marketing department at Simon & Schuster must have known what my intentions were and decided to send me a book that would make such academic, high-brow literary criticism nearly impossible. That is not because the book isn’t good or conceivably worthy of such treatment. It is impossible because they sent me a book that is at its best – written, read and appreciated – when the writer and the reader are being honest about themselves.

Let me explain. (See, I told you I would write about the book.)

Something of the Night is Marchant’s seventh book. From Sussex, his style has been compared to Nick Hornby and Bill Bryson. In this most recent work, Marchant writes about his lifelong affinity with things that take place at nighttime. And, thankfully, almost all of the stories he tells are not what you would expect.

He recounts the importance of the Bonfire traditions in Southern England and weaves together the history with the visual spectacle of the events commemorating Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot’s attempt to create to political and religious chaos in 17th century England. He tells the story of men dedicated to science best practiced at night when trying to discover renegade meteors or find elusive birds. His travels around the British Isles at night are well organized and well told. The various “nighttime” stories are held together by a starry night in Ireland when the author and a friend gather to talk. Accompanied by a less-than-aggressive watchdog to listen to music, the duo debate the value of pop music versus Irish folk music, create an amusing comparison of the United States Confederacy and Nazism (being American heightened my enjoyment of this section) and imbibe and inhale legal and not-so-legal drugs.

Marchant does an admirable job of defying expectations the readers may have had for what the book was going to be about. There are moments when you forget the connectable thread to the book is night, especially when reading about the decline of the Irish linen industry. Marchant does not give you what you expect.

But overall, the reason I enjoyed the book was not because of his stories. The reason I enjoyed and recommend Something of the Night is for the moments in between Marchant’s storytelling about the dark. I like it for the moments when the light broke through the darkness Marchant was trying to create. Much in the way I started this “review” by talking about myself and my failures to be a literary esoteric, I enjoyed the book most when bits of brutal honesty slipped onto the page. When talking about his daughters, his previous relationships, his relevant failures and successes, his parents, himself, Marchant was unabashedly honest. It was this truth and honesty that made me appreciate his stories and compelled me to turn the page.

Sadly, I wish he did this a bit more. As I read, I found myself looking more than these moments of honesty than enjoying the “stories.” Clearly, the author made the night more interesting and made me think about it in new and different ways. But like the writing of Hornby and Bryson, Marchant is best when his writing was honest and about himself.

Admittedly, I have not read Marchant’s earlier books, Parallel Lines or The Longest Crawl. As a recently transplanted American to the UK, Marchant was not on my literary radar. It may be the case that his personal commentaries are in those books as well. I will search out his previous titles to find out because there is something in Marchant’s voice that speaks to me and, undoubtedly, to others. For that reason and to that end is why I wrote a review in the way I write… not the way the English department in North Carolina or in the manner of the offices of the New York Times. Something of the Night impressed me enough to be honest in my reporting because it was in its honesty, it truly shined the most.

Something of the Night has been released today in the UK by Simon & Schuster – January 6, 2012