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By Nightfall (Anglais) Broché – 1 septembre 2011
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Revue de presse
Praise for Michael Cunningham
A genius Tim Lott
One of our very best writers. Los Angeles Times
Praise for The Hours
The Hours is a book which heightens the perception of the reader. Cunningham s craftmanship is overwhelming. Robert Farren, Independent on Sunday
An extremely moving, original and memorable novel. Hermione Lee, TLS
Engrossing, imaginative and humane. Richard Francis, Observer--Los Angeles Times and the Observer --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
Présentation de l'éditeur
Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties, denizens of Manhattan s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committee careers in the arts he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Until Rebecca s much younger, look-alike brother, Ethan (known in the family as Mizzy, the mistake ), comes to visit.
By Nightfall allows us to understand Peter s life from the inside as he comes to question everything about his carefully constructed world. This poetic and compelling masterpiece is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and after shocks, By Nightfall is a novel about the uses and meaning of beauty, and the place of love in our lives.
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The principal characters in "By Nightfall" are Peter Harris, a 44-year-old contemporary art dealer, and his wife Rebecca, an editor of an arts and culture magazine. As a gallery owner, Peter's occupation is that of a "servant of beauty." He has begun to suffer existential dread: "[a] conviction, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that some terrible, blinding beauty is about to descend and, like the wrath of God, suck [the world] all away, orphan us, deliver us, leave us wondering how exactly we're going to start it all over again."
The plot, modestly scaled, is set in motion by the appearance of Rebecca's much younger brother Ethan (age 23), a beautiful but flawed and directionless young man who's interested in doing "something in the arts." Ethan's brief stay with the couple in their spacious SoHo loft will upend all three lives.
"By Nightfall" is written in a combination of voices: at times there is a third person omniscient narrator, sometimes a second person interlocutor, but principally we are caught within Peter's own ruminations. The lasting effect is a story told through Peter's eyes. While this brings a unity to the novel, it also can be a handicap. When events, ideas and emotions come to us filtered through his fears and sensibilities, the narrative sometimes falls into a rut, trapped by the insular sound of Peter conducting a hothouse conversation with himself. The reader yearns for more self-sufficiency on the part of other characters -- persons we are meant to, and want to, care about. Happily, Cunningham is terrific with dialog, and the frequent conversational segments -- animated, stylish, and verbally agile (these are New Yorkers, after all) -- oxygenate the narrative.
Cunningham's most popular novel, "The Hours," gained strength from the interconnectedness, across time and space, of three extraordinary women. The new novel, less ambitious and focused on one man, does not achieve similar standing. This is not surprising when you consider the following thought that comes into Peter's mind -- a view, I suspect, shared by the author:
"We--we men--are the frightened ones, the blundering and nervous ones; if we act the skeptic or the bully sometimes it's because we suspect we're wrong in some deep incalculable way that women are not. Our impersonations are failing us and our vices and habits are ludicrous and . . . we have no idea about anything that actually matters."
Some are likely to dismiss "By Nightfall" as privileged and claustrophobic, but I think enough others will have a different take. Yes, the setting and tone are highly literary, with frequent allusions to high culture sources ("Ulysses" and "The Dead"; "The Great Gatsby"; "Death in Venice"; the real-life doomed affair of Rimbaud and Verlaine). That's what you expect from Michael Cunningham. But at the same time, in what is one of his shortest novels, Cunningham manages to cover a broad range of topics of interest to many readers, not the least of which is relationships. When tracing Peter and Rebecca's histories, Cunningham uses his extraordinary skill at conveying the enduring connections within families. He is best with younger characters, especially sibling relationships. He traces the pangs of growth beyond adolescence as surely as he captures our fears of growing old and dying.
You cannot gainsay the beauty of Cunningham's writing, his knack for filling in the perfect detail, his intelligence and empathy. As for magic, Cunningham convincingly creates a bevy of working artists who are part of Peter's world, devising for each a unique aesthetic and then conjuring up rooms full of their artworks, all minutely described. Other reviewers will doubtless cite their own favorite passages, but for me the one that stands out is a terrific set piece in which we follow the footsteps of the insomniac Peter in the wee hours of the night as he meanders through the irregular streets of lower Manhattan. It is an unexpected, charmed sequence.
Cunningham once introduced the author Joan Didion at a public ceremony with this observation: "Our most significant writers record us for future generations." With that in mind, I think we would do right to add "By Nightfall" to the record.
For one, the characters just aren't that likable. In every other one of his novels, I could find something to relate to or sympathize with in every man, woman, gay, straight, young, old, contemporary, historic person. In By Nightfall, I found Peter to be pathetic, his wife flat, and his brother-in-law a whiny child.
I also like Cunningham for the deep ideas he can effortlessly mix into his stories. In this case, it was more like he was trying to mix a story into his deep idea, and it was unsuccessful. There was too much thinking about life and beauty and not enough life and beauty actually happening. On top of that, the constant musing nature let to redundant vocabulary--evanescent, crepuscular, ineffably. I like a perfect word as much as (if not more than) the next person, but when I start noticing the same words being repeated, that tells me you're trying to stretch a 30-page idea into a 230-page novel. Kind of jarring.
Perhaps I shouldn't fault Cunningham for trying to move on and do something new (based on this novel, perhaps HE is having an existential crisis over the nature of his own art), but at the same time, I really miss the triangular, interweaving stories that spoke more to me than this forceful presentation of a theme.
But the novel failed for another reason, too: Its protagonist is an utter dolt. Far be it from me to need likable characters to enjoy a novel, but Peter Harris is not just unlikeable -- he's totally unbelievable. Here's the story: Peter's a mid-40s New York City art dealer in the midst of a crisis. He's not sure he's happy with his life. (Real original, right?) When his wife Rebecca's much-younger, much-troubled brother Mizzy comes for a visit, idealistic Peter develops all these notions of Mizzy as quintessential Youth, Beauty, and the Happiness of his marriage when it was still new. And then, Peter thinks he might be in love with Mizzy. But is he actually in love with Mizzy or is he in love with what he's convinced himself that Mizzy represents?
But heterosexual, married Peter's possible homosexual crush on his brother-in-law (which to Cunningham's credit is certainly an original take on the mid-life crisis dilemma!) is not even the ridiculous part. The ridiculous part is how silly Peter, who Cunningham painstakingly renders as this uber-self-aware, contemplative, hip New Yorker, seems at various points in the novel. He's like a rocket scientist who can't balance his checkbook. As one example of this: Early in the novel, he comes home and sees Mizzy naked in the shower and actually mistakes him for his wife, wondering why she looks so much younger all of a sudden. Yes, this is a foreshadowing of what's to come, but its too gimmicky to be believable. And then later, Peter so blatantly misses some rather important signs that by that point are so obvious to the reader, it's impossible to take him seriously anymore.
So, then, Peter's naïvete contradicts with his (and the novel's) pretentiousness. As evidence of that pretentiousness, read this sentence (from Peter's thoughts): "She sighs voluptuously. She could so easily be a Klimt portrait, with her wide-set eyes and bony little apostrophe of a nose." A beautiful sentence, no doubt. But how does someone sigh voluptuously? And who is Klimt? Peter certainly knows, and maybe that's how an art dealer would think, but Cunningham is practically holding it over his readers' heads that they don't. And that, and dozens of similar examples throughout the novel, are what drags the novel into pretentiousness.
I do think By Nightfall is an original, smart piece of contemporary lit. But to me, the annoying peripherals cancel out the ingenuity of the story and Cunningham's often stylish prose.