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The School of Night by Louis Bayard

The School of Night (2011)

by Louis Bayard

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This book was well written, suspenseful and written for folks who know a lot more about Shakespeare than I do. I think some of it was lost on me for that reason, my own ignorance and nothing more. I loved the characters. I loved the Margaret and Hariot story especially. So touching and sad at the same time. I also liked the ending in that the reader doesn't have all the answers. Usually that's a feature I dislike in books, but it works well this time. ( )
  bcrowl399 | Jul 8, 2018 |
A fun thriller centered around another gaggle of modern-day book hunters (Elizabethan and Shakespearean this time around) and their 17th-century quarry. The contemporary protagonist is Henry Cavendish, a likable and scholarly loser surrounded by friends who may or may not share his goals. And who may not be his friends at all, for that matter. The part of the story set in the early 1600s revolves around Thomas Harriot, a close friend of Walter Raleigh and beer buddy of Christopher Marlowe and that whole gang. Harriot has a servant girl who impresses him and becomes much more as he delves into his own research on the usual (for that group) topics of alchemy, astrology, paganism and the like. The contemporary story is a chase to nail down the provenance and legitimacy of a particular document which has all the makings of launching an all-out treasure hunt. How things are resolved is not at all given away prematurely, and lots of interesting twists take place in both timelines. I really, really liked the understated and subtle wit throughout, and the final plot turn on the contemporary front was especially good. Overall, a fun and very interesting read for fans of the book hunter theme and fans of that particular period of history. ( )
  jimgysin | Jun 19, 2017 |
By Kathy Blumenstock
The Washington Post
April 4, 2011

Authors are constantly asked where they find ideas for their books, a wearisome refrain that usually yields polite, ordinary replies: from past experiences, a song fragment, a family tiff. Washington novelist Louis Bayard anticipates the question and tells readers upfront how “The School of Night,” a contemporary mystery infused with 16th-century history, flowed from a classic 21st-century time-waster: a day-trip around the Internet.

Bayard’s Google discovery of the School of Night prompted more questions than confirmations. Did a group of scholars that included Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh and a young man named William Shakespeare really exist, holding clandestine meetings to debate divinity, politics, astronomy, alchemy? Such gatherings and such topics might have drawn the ire of Queen Elizabeth, so the band of scholars met at night. But they left no paper trail of their conversations, and no formal documentation shows that the School was real.

How convenient for Bayard’s modern-day characters — and how exciting for us. Their quest to learn more about the School involves academic research, treasure hunting and action adventure. Henry Cavendish, a 21st-century English professor whose career was derailed when he discovered a poem by Raleigh which proved to be a fraud, first heard of the School of Night from his lifelong friend, a wealthy man named Alonzo Wax. Wax’s fervor for the School was fueled by his delight in spotting mentions of it in Shakespearian metaphors and allusions. This interest followed the two classmates through college and reached a new intensity years later. Wax’s final voicemail message for Cavendish — “Call me. The School of Night is back in session” — is a bewildering prelude to Wax’s fatal plunge into the Potomac River hours later.

Even more baffling for Cavendish is the sudden appearance of two more School devotees. Clarissa Dale, who received the same message from Wax, claims to have nightly visions of Thomas Harriot, an obscure member of the group. Bernard Styles, an antiques collector, is trying to retrieve a stolen document that attests to the existence of the School of Night. He insists that the page, part of a letter written by Walter Raleigh, was lifted by Wax. Waving a $10,000 check and the promise of more cash, Styles persuades money-strapped Cavendish, Wax’s reluctant executor, to look for it amid his friend’s massive collection of books and papers.

At first, Cavendish’s scavenging seems casual: an amateur detective on the trail of the intangible. Then Cavendish wonders what’s really at stake when a pair of murders turns the diversion dangerous. Other characters show up with agendas and ideas all their own. The search for an ancient letter in a Washington apartment escalates into a trans-Atlantic scramble to uncover the promise of much more.

“The School of Night” comes into sharper focus via flashbacks sandwiched between current-day chapters. Rather than put words into the mouth of one of the more famous names, Bayard gives the lesser-known Harriot a voice. The scholar, a translator, mathematician and scientist, divulges details about his colleagues in the School and sketches a slice of 16th-century life. Harriot, dubbed “England’s Galileo,” has secrets of his own. Fearful of discovery, he holds his findings close. Only youthful Margaret, a housekeeper who becomes Harriot’s research assistant and later, love interest, is privy to his most ambitious alchemy experiment.

Its existence, perilous and exhilarating, cuts across time as Bayard knits his modern and historical storylines together. In the 21st century, the School of Night enthusiasts cull clues from what they see in the mysterious letter. Determined to capture every wisp of elusive information, they flit between certainties: They’re seeking sunken booty off the shores of the East Coast. No, it’s a hidden stash of gold tucked away in England. Or is this enigmatic treasure even grander, its value worth the risk of a human life?

Bayard adds twist after satisfying twist to these interlocked tales. Tragic and jolting surprises keep the storylines zigzagging toward resolution. At its heart, “The School of Night” illuminates a glimpse into legend, assuring readers that this ancient classroom offered a curriculum heavy on secrets.
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The School of Night by Louis Bayard "Black is the badge of hell,/The hue of dungeons and the school of night," wrote Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost. Did he mean anything special by "school of night" (assuming he didn't mean "suit of night" or "scowl of night" as in some editions)? Arthur Acheson speculated in his 1903 work Shakespeare and the Rival Poet that the phrase might refer to a secret society formed by Queen Elizabeth's courtier Walter Raleigh and other intellectuals, including astronomer Thomas Harriot, who made a drawing of the moon viewed through a telescope months before Galileo did.

Bayard's novel opens in Washington D.C. in 2009. Henry Cavendish, a washed-up academic, is serving as executor of the estate of his old friend Alonzo Wax, an avid collector of antiquarian books. After the funeral, a suspiciously suave Englishman offers Henry a stupendous sum to locate an Elizabethan manuscript he claims Alonzo stole from him, a previously unknown letter from Raleigh (or Ralegh, as the most up-to-date scholars now spell his name) mentioning "our homelie Schoole." It might be the evidence Henry and Alonzo had long been seeking that the "School of Night" truly existed. Henry accepts the offer, and bodies begin dropping. Obviously, the document is of more than academic interest to someone.
  meadcl | Nov 19, 2016 |
Fun contemporary-historic novel with crime noir elements. Lots of Elizabethan details for the history nut. My favorite parts were the Elizabethan "flashbacks." Loved learning about the "school of night" and about Thomas Harriot. I also enjoyed Margaret as a possible enlightened woman of that time. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
A treasure hunt, coded map deciphering, familiar and intriguing historical figures -- sounds like a good read. But what a disappointment! I expected so much more from an author whose previous books have been enjoyable. This story was slow and boring. Perhaps the greatest flaw was the characters -- not a single one was strong enough to inspire either like or dislike. ( )
  SharronA | Jun 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
"Bayard adds twist after satisfying twist to these interlocked tales."
"Bayard (The Black Tower, 2008, etc.) blends luminaries of history, lost treasure, intrigue and a double-twist conclusion into a highly readable concoction."
added by bookfitz | editKirkus Reivews (Mar 1, 2011)
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For Mark H. Now quit bugging me.
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Three or four times a week, it comes.
He sees her. He stammers, he half rises, the book tumbles from his lap, he stoops for it, then jerks upright. All these actions betray him, but more than anything else, it is his eyes, the way they receive her image and bend it and absorb it and send it back.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080509069X, Hardcover)

An ancient mystery, a lost letter, and a timeless love unleash a long-buried web of intrigue that spans four centuries

In the late sixteenth century, five brilliant scholars gather under the cloak of darkness to discuss God, politics, astronomy, and the black arts. Known as the School of Night, they meet in secret to avoid the wrath of Queen Elizabeth. But one of the men, Thomas Harriot, has secrets of his own, secrets he shares with one person only: the servant woman he loves.

In modern-day Washington, D.C., disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish has been hired by the ruthless antiquities collector Bernard Styles to find a missing letter. The letter dates from the 1600s and was stolen by Henry's close friend, Alonzo Wax. Now Wax is dead and Styles wants the letter back.

But the letter is an object of interest to others, too. It may be the clue to a hidden treasure; it may contain the long-sought formula for alchemy; it most certainly will prove the existence of the group of men whom Shakespeare dubbed the School of Night but about whom little is known. Joining Henry in his search for the letter is Clarissa Dale, a mysterious woman who suffers from visions that only Henry can understand. In short order, Henry finds himself stumbling through a secretive world of ancient perils, caught up in a deadly plot, and ensnared in the tragic legacy of a forgotten genius.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:50 -0400)

Centuries after the founding of a scholarly organization that covertly discussed religion, science, and the black arts, disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish searches for a missing letter than may prove the group's existence and contain the formula for alchemy.… (more)

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