Book Review: Half the Day is Night, Maureen F. McHugh (1994)

May 11th, 2012 10:48 am by mad mags

2012-03-16 - Half the Day is Night - 0002

While the characters fall flat, the backdrop steals the stage.

three out of five stars

With the exception of Mothers & Other Monsters, I’ve read all of Maureen McHugh’s novels and anthologies. (“Devoured” is more like it, having consumed them all in the space of just a few months.) While somewhat enjoyable, Half the Day is Night is not McHugh’s best work.

Perhaps the lackluster reviews I saw previous to reading the book colored my perception of it, but I had trouble empathizing with – or even caring a whit about – the characters who inhabit the story. With the (marginal) exception of David Dai, the denizens of McHugh’s undersea cities are at best bland and boring; at worst, downright unlikable. For example, I found female protagonist Mayla Ling sheltered, spoiled, self-absorbed, and completely lacking in common sense. (When David calls her a tyrant for taking advantage of her employee/ex-boyfriend Tim, Mayla simply shrugs indifferently. “Too bad.”) I cared less about whether she survived the story’s end than whether her selfishness would prove David’s downfall. Described mainly through Mayla’s eyes, poor Tim hardly gets a chance at becoming a well-rounded character.

The real star of Half the Day is Night proves to be its setting – the intricate undersea cities created by McHugh. Dark and dank, and marked by poverty and sharp class inequities, one can almost feel the oppressive weight of the ocean pressing down from above. As always, McHugh’s imagination is a thing of beauty; her detailed depiction of Caribe will stay with you long after the story is done.

If you’re already a fan of McHugh, Half the Day is Night is well worth a read. Otherwise, begin your journey with another of her works. Mission Child is my personal favorite, and Nekropolis, China Mountain Zhang, and After the Apocalypse are all outstanding as well.

2012-03-24 - Half the Day is Night - 0002

(Crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads.)

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under , , , ,

One Response to “Book Review: Half the Day is Night, Maureen F. McHugh (1994)”

  1. Book Review: Mothers & Other Monsters: Stories, Maureen F. McHugh (2006) » V for Vegan: Says:

    […] all of a week, I quickly tore through her novels: Nekropolis (2002), China Mountain Zhang (1997), Half the Day is Night (1996), and the epic masterpiece Mission Child (1999), which I cannot recommend highly enough. It […]

Leave a Reply