Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

The Last Days of Night turned out to be the perfect pre-Christmas read for me.

Historical fiction set in 1888 New York - tick.
A novel based on real people and events - tick, tick.
Fast-paced, easy to read and short chapters - tick, tick, tick!

Based on the legal battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over the patent of the electric light bulb, Moore has created a fascinating peek inside the lives and times of these two powerful, magnetic characters. Using, in particular, Edison's own journals and letters to recreate conversations, we see their rivalry through the eyes of the up and coming young attorney Paul Cravath.

Top left, clockwise - Paul Cravath, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison & Agnes Huntington 

Cravath was employed by Westinghouse to manage the 312 lawsuits that Edison had issued against him. Both men were prepared to play hardball to get the outcome they wanted, which raised the stakes to dangerous, and at times, life threatening levels.

In his end note Moore said,
This book is a Gordian knot of verifiable truth, educated supposition, dramatic rendering, and total guesswork.
He amalgamated and fudged certain events and their chronology to make for a more entertaining story. Where he sticks to scientific and legal matters, Moore has done an admirable job. The reader is provided with a thoroughly enthralling story that gradually reveals the unfolding drama and almost unbelievable machinations of the main players. He is on shakier ground, though, when it comes to the romantic elements of the story.

The love affair between Cravath and Agnes Huntington felt less convincing, perhaps because Moore had very little biographical information to work with for either of them.

Moore's story is definitely strongest where he had real events and dialogue to embellish.

It's also very easy to see how the future screenplay will emerge from this book. The visual imagery is striking and dramatic from page one. The scenes flow smoothly from one set piece to the next. Perhaps this is also why the more romantic story is less effective - it's harder to show the internal deliberations of a pair of very careful, cautious lovers.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Days of Night. And I think you will too.

It's a fascinating look at genius, power and ambition in a society on the cusp of major technological and sociological change. As the world moved from gentleman scientist to professional inventor, 'idle fiddling' changed from something the educated rich did to fill in their days to something people did to make obscene fortunes.

The Last Days of Night would be the perfect uncomplicated, but intriguing holiday read for lovers of biographical fiction.

Read it before you see the movie!

6 comments:

  1. Great suggestion for my 2017 year!
    Characters are familiar...but who is Graham Moore?

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    Replies
    1. I had never heard of him before but he wrote a book about Sherlock Holmes a couple of years ago & a film script for a movie the Imitation Game (which I haven't seen).

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    2. I've just realised that I have indeed watched The Imitation Game - it's the movie based on Alan Turing's life - it was fascinating.

      Moore does fictionalised history really well :-)

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  2. This sounds right up my street! 312 writs! Sounds like the man was seriously annoyed... ;) Thanks for the heads up on this one.

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    Replies
    1. If the facts in the book were accurate, then Edison (& others) also sued Alexander Bell over 600 times!
      He was obviously a very litigious person!!

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  3. I agree, the love affair between Paul and Agnes fell flat. It was as if he thought she's cute, maybe I'll date her. And that's that. Just finished the book and I liked it for the most part. Great review!
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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    ReplyDelete

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