I will not mince words. Michael Cox‘s The Glass of Time was quite a read, and a somewhat difficult one at that.
The novel, somewhat similar to the Jane Austen memoir I wrote about a few weeks ago, makes use of a fictitious archival scholar who leaves a textual note as well as footnotes throughout the text. This, Cox argues, allows him to explain references without forcing the characters to do so themselves. While I think this is a clever trick, albeit one slightly less convincing than James’ aforementioned one, I’m not sure if I really needed any of the footnotes’ information. Instead, I felt as thought they were slightly distracting.
Additionally, and this is no critique of Cox or this novel, but I’m finding that I’m growing tired of the first-person narration I’ve had in my past few books I’ve read for you all. This is not just a mere complaint, mind you. If you’ve been reading these posts as I’ve produced them, you might have noticed that I’ve brought up shifting focalization at least twice, as well as my minor aversion to it. While focalization shifts occur less often with first-person fiction (yay), it does tend to result in a limited scope for the reader. The reader then must, to some degree, piece together information as the narrator does themselves. In a suspenseful book like this one, that makes the read that much more tantalizing. However, given the extreme exposition of The Glass of Time, it also makes the read fairly dense.
I must admit that I was starting to wonder if I even liked the book until I got about half-way through it. It wasn’t until the puzzle pieces started falling together that it became difficult to put the book down–once I got through the first half, the final half took me about two (interrupted) sittings to finish. So, I would say that that was my main complaint of the book: I think there was almost so much time spent setting up the story that the first half was somewhat boring.
But I suppose you’re all wondering what this story is actually about. Well, I’ll try to give you a brief summary without spoilers!
Cox’s novel takes place in Victorian England and follows the life of Miss Esperanza (Alice) Gorst over the course of about a year. Gorst, who grew up an orphan in France, is sent to the prominent estate Evenwood to be the lady’s maid of Lady Tansor…and bring about her downfall! However, Esperanza doesn’t know why Tansor should be seen as her enemy–with time, she actually develops an affection for her mistress–so until she receives all three “letters of instruction” from her guardian, she muddles her way through finding incriminating information about Tansor. (Spoiler alert–this is what takes so long to actually learn)
There’s murder, suicide, lust and passion, secret/unspoken love, secret plots, fake identities… and once you get through the groundwork laid for all these elements, the story really picks up from there.
I will say that I greatly enjoyed the characters and the descriptive style Cox employs. It makes it incredibly easy to create a mental movie about the story! I felt like I was experiencing Esperanza’s life at Evenwood. Cox makes it easy to empathize with the characters–once I was truly absorbed in the story, I was on pins and needles to know if Esperanza would get the justice and happiness she deserved.
Well, that’s all for this week, it was a tad longer than usual. Be sure to suggest other books I should read and review here and I’ll add them to my list! Keep an eye out next week for my post on The Time in Between by María Dueñas!