- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books (April 29, 1976)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140040722
- ISBN-13: 978-0140040722
I went through a Susan Hill mini-phase last year, reading her The Woman in Black and I’m the King of the Castle within a very short space of time. During my mania I also ordered two or three used copies of her other titles, including the book I read today, The Bird of Night.
In this novel a man named Harvey Lawson meets the poet Francis Croft at a house party. Soon the two begin hanging out together, as the saying goes, and it’s not long before they develop a sort of friendship. Lawson finds himself drawn to the mysterious, oddly eccentric Croft. After a while it becomes apparent all isn’t well with Croft’s mental condition but rather than being run off Lawson feels the urgent need to care for the poet. Despite the fact Francis is constantly paranoid he will leave, Harvey finds himself more and more drawn in. He believes Francis is a poetic genius, and in fact Francis does produce a poem to great acclaim, titled “Janus.”
The years go by and Francis slides further and further into insanity. Eventually he attempts suicide, though unsuccessfully. Even relatively early on it’s obvious Harvey loves Francis, though the very nature of Francis’ madness makes any sort of real relationship impossible. Still, he’s content to care for him, hoping for even a glimpse of sanity. These moments of rationality, though, become further and further apart.
The book is framed by the years following the death of Francis, when Harvey is a very old man being cared for in the same manner he cared for Francis. Literary worshipers assail him constantly, looking in vain for any papers Francis may have left behind him. Harvey tells them “there are no papers,” when in fact there actually are but he doesn’t want to encourage any more attention than he’s already getting. The intrusions are a nuisance. He would prefer to be alone with his memories,
The Bird of Night is a book I read in one day. It was compelling enough, and likewise short enough, I didn’t want to put it down unfinished. Though not as masterful as Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle, it is nevertheless a fascinating portrait of a descent into madness.