Title: The City & The City
Author: China Miéville
When I saw that China Miéville had a new book out, I snapped it up. He’s one of the few authors I’ll spring for without even knowing anything about the book. I rarely have time to read above and beyond my book club, but I do sneak one in now and again.
I’m generally a slow reader, and as I got started with this book I made a deliberate effort to stay slow. I enjoy Miéville’s prose, and I wanted to savor it. But I was hardly able to put this book down, and so I ended up finishing it in a week, which is pretty remarkable for me.
I enjoyed the novel immensely. It’s quite a departure from Perdido Street Station or The Scar, a hardboiled noirish police procedural set in what seems to be our real world — sort of. I’ll admit the characters are thin and the plot is somewhat conventional. The main interest here is without question the setting: a fictional city somewhere in Eastern Europe, I think. Actually not one city but two, twin cities in fact, and it’s the nature of the relation between these twins that drives the whole book along. I can’t really say more without spoiling the wondrous sense of discovery Miéville so skillfully evokes. I found the premise utterly beguiling, all the more remarkable because there is no recourse to the fantastic. Actually, that’s just my interpretation; I’ve poked around on the net and found other reviews which indicate other people read it differently and see elements of the fantastic where I saw none. But that’s just an indication of the subtlety of Miéville’s approach.
Alas, the story falls just short of greatness, as the conventional plot (a murder mystery) somehow manages to overwhelm everything else as it lumbers to its conclusion. But the basic conceit of the book remains fascinating, highly original, enormously evocative and well worth the price of admission.