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Editorial Reviews

In By Nightfall, author Michael Cunningham — best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours — tells the story of a few days in the life of Peter Harris, a New York art dealer with a decades-long marriage to Rebecca; an emotionally and geographically distant daughter; and a habit of falling, as he puts it, “in love with beauty”. The novel, performed by English actor Hugh Dancy, is packed with the gorgeous prose and thoughtful details that are classic Cunningham — and Dancy’s flawless narration is well-paced, emotional, and genuine.

Rebecca’s brother — an “oops” baby named Ethan but known as Mizzy (short for “the Mistake”) — is the golden child of the family, despite years of drug abuse and repeated, failed attempts to live up to the standards his family sets for him. And when he comes to stay with Peter and Rebecca, he’s also the catalyst for Peter’s re-examining of his entire life, from his first crush on an older girl to his relationship with his late brother. Cunningham nails every detail — the small moments between Rebecca and Peter, the fears and insecurities Peter has about his own past, the tiny domestic routines that make up a life — and Dancy hits every note: His narration moves effortlessly from Peter’s stream-of-consciousness internal monologue to interactions with other characters without a trace of his own English accent, and he adds a hint of Southern drawl to Mizzy and Rebecca (who grew up below the Mason-Dixon line). A cast of supporting characters — including egocentric artists, rich collectors, and fellow dealers — gets the same meticulous treatment. Cunningham and Dancy both worked on the movie Evening (alongside Dancy’s wife, Claire Danes, who reportedly asked Cunningham to officiate the couple’s private wedding ceremony in 2009) and their collaboration here is poignant and powerful. —Blythe Copeland

Publisher's Summary

Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-40s denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed 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. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in the family as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling 23-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career - the entire world he has so carefully constructed.

Like his legendary, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s masterly new novel is a heartbreaking look at the way we live now. Full of shocks and aftershocks, it makes us think and feel deeply about the uses and meaning of beauty and the place of love in our lives.

©2010 Mare Vaporum Corp. (P)2010 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"[A]n exquisite, slyly witty, warmly philosophical, and urbanely eviscerating tale of the mysteries of beauty and desire, art and delusion, age and love." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall

Beauty is truth? Is that all we need to know?

This beautifully-written story of an art dealer's mid-life, mid-career, mid-marriage crisis is, as we have come to expect in Michael Cunningham's fiction, rich in allusions, but, except for the big urn protagonist Peter Harris sells to his favorite client, I don't recall any mention of John Keats. But I kept thinking of the poet's tragic paradox by Peter's impossible attempt to find, in the ineffable beauty of sculpture and of a dangerous lover, an experience of the infinite he well knows is at odds with the temporary pleasures and pains of real life. Along the way, although far shorter than Jonathan Franzen's recent blockbuster, By Nightfall similarly makes us wonder if freedom is all it's cracked up to be.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dennis
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 11-03-10

Tedious, Self-absorbed, and Pretentious

Michael Cunningham takes us into the mind of Peter Harris, an New York art dealer who muses over every little detail of his boring life. One wants to shout at the narrator, "Get on with it, already." However, it is not his fault, he's only reading the mind of a man who regales us with every little detail of every little incident in his life and believes that we care. The story has more asides than a Shakespearean play that add little to the plot and do not further the cause of story telling. There is no plot, only subplots, and in the end, nothing is resolved.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Almost is good enough

Any additional comments?

Hugh Dancy does a really good job narrating. That’s probably my favorite part of the audiobook (it took a while for it to dawn on me that he was using his American accent rather than his own natural British one...would it be reading too much meaning in that given the story? ha). I see a lot of confused reviewers on this page. No, people in the art world are not the same as the rest of us in terms of how they engage life. I think that might be why it’s not landing for some of you. And this is a story without heroes, really. People who live for beauty on the surface and live in fear for their fading lives and disappointments beneath it. <br/><br/>Honestly I’m not sure I can speak with authority much beyond that right now. Although the writer is obviously very talented, this novel does strike me as undisciplined as the lead character goes in neurotic circles worrying things into the ground that aren’t maybe all that interesting. There are like four or five subjects we hear about over and over again where nothing new is said, just said in a mildly different way. Mizzie. The daughter. Fading youth. I liked hearing about those things, but it seems like the writer was maybe trying to cloud some of the other characters motivations so that we didn’t see the twists coming. <br/><br/>Maybe I’m wrong. I am VERY glad I read the book though. I feel like I learned a lot of about the NYC art scene and the people who populate it. Flavors, colors, textures, etc. Honestly that’s why I read it. Kind of like research, I guess. Curiosity. I LOVE that the book concerned itself so much with art and how people in the art world, how art applies in their practical lives. Other than that, the story takes on hues of American Beauty and Lolita, which works. And it serves to give the author’s musings direction. But yeah. Could have been a little more merciful in the repetition. Density. It felt dense in places.<br/><br/>For those who are frustrated about why characters don’t ask obvious questions, that’s the point. They’re avoiding those questions. Don’t want to face certain truths. That’s what the ending seems to be about, getting the stomach to tell the truth. Reveal oneself rather than be so encumbered by a mask. I’m making it sound cheap. It’s better in the book.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Derek
  • Dallas, TX, United States
  • 01-04-11

true to form

Astonishing.
Cunningham does it again. His vision for the tiny heartbreaking meaningful details of like is just astonishing. Just like The Hours I am sure I will listen to this over and over.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jeff
  • Mount Vernon, WA, United States
  • 03-21-11

Poor book. Whiney characters.

Loved " The Hours". Hated this. Overwritten annoying characters that I was hoping would get hit by a bus. Very dissappointing

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Great Novel, Great Narration

Would you listen to By Nightfall again? Why?

I loved By Nightfall, and would absolutely read it again. The book captured me very quickly, and surprised me with its eloquence, I've set on to read other books by the author. Hugh Dancy narrates the book wonderfully and was an adage to the experience.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I loved the main character, Peter, but more so was fascinated with the impressions left of his brother, Michael, whom, though long-passed, is a heavy presence in the novel.

Which character – as performed by Hugh Dancy – was your favorite?

Hugh Dancy's embodiment of Peter, the main character and narrator, brought the man into dimension alongside the writer's eloquent depiction. His narration made the character feel real and fluid.

Who was the most memorable character of By Nightfall and why?

Mizzy, the younger brother of Peter's wife, Rebbecca, is the main focus of Peter and by far the most memorable character in By Nightfall, if not the main character. His personality is presented to us flatly at the beginning of the novel, but blossoms throughout into our enchantment as well as Peter's, our obsessions with him growing alongside each other.

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  • Story

How to get exquisite poetry just by listening to prose

This is my third Cunningham and probably my least favorite of the 3; and.... I adored it. Which just tells you how fabulously much I liked the other two (the snow queen, the hours). Michael Cunningham is extraordinary and in my view, stands alone as a writer whose prose has the power to take your breath away in the same way that exquisite poetry does . His characters and stories are captivating. Sheer genius.

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Entertaining but disappointing ending

Although I enjoyed listening I found the it to be anticlimactic and disappointing at the conclusion. Most of the book was suspenseful but the ending fell short.

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  • Barry
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 08-01-12

New Yorkers are weird

There were times when this book threatened to blossom into greatness but then the threat would harmlessly pass, and we were back to clueless characters with limited self-awareness who pointedly refused to ask obvious questions. This is absolutely maddening. It's forgivable if two characters are in the heat of the moment, but when the author takes pains to have them think about it in advance and then have them discuss it numerous times and never bother to voice something that is very clear to the reader is simply frustrating. It keeps the book from ever advancing past the introductory and superficial issues into something a bit more profound. And yet this book seems to have pretensions of profundity. I could never figure out if Cunningham thought he was truly being profound or if he simply isn't aware that he's only scratching the surface. Just as I could never figure out if the New Yorkers in this book truly believed they were more sophisticated than the rest of us, or if they simply aren't aware that they are merely deformed examples of arrested development.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful