Book review: Something of the Night

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THERE’S a footnote on page 8 of this book which reads: “It isn’t necessary for you to have read my other books in order to understand this one, but it is necessary that you buy them.”

It’s a good joke, but it also tells us something about Marchant’s career: he seems to write books about any old thing. The first one I read was Parallel Lines, which was about Britain’s rail network. It was geeky, yet also funny and interesting. Three years later I read The Longest Crawl, in which he and a friend go on a pub crawl from the Scilly Isles to Shetland. It was delightful.

Something of the Night is harder to classify. It is loosely themed on what we do during the hours of darkness, but is also a kind of autobiography. The form goes like this: Marchant arrives at his friend Neil’s place in West Cork after a 300-mile drive from Belfast to buy some weed. They stay up and talk. Well, mostly Ian talks. He covers straw mattresses, fireworks, Bonfire Night in Lewes, floodlit football matches (“Last night I dreamt I went to Wembley again,” begins one chapter, which of course works best if you pronounce it “Wemberley”), the sad fortunes of the Northern Irish linen industry, an ex-girlfriend who “asked me at what stage in a duck’s life-cycle it turned into a swan”, the risk of us being hit by an enormous meteorite, how wonderful Trinity College, Cambridge is (“even your wackos out-wacko everyone else”), how hateful Christianity’s hatred of sex is (he is, though, a Christian), the ethics of prostitution, hippies, death...

It’s reminiscent of Nick Hornby or Bill Bryson, but less needy than Hornby and less reliant on the joke than Bryson. Marchant carries us through with patience, humour, self-lacerating honesty and immense charm. I don’t see how anyone could fail to like it.

Something of the Night

by Ian Marchant

Simon & Schuster, 304pp, £14.99