Sunday, August 7, 2011
Review of The City and the City by China Mieville
From that point, the novel gradually opens out into something quite unlike any crime novel I have read, or indeed any crime novel one could imagine. To start with, Beszel, which is described as being on the outskirts of Eastern Europe, is no ordinary city. What the reader slowly and teasingly learns is that Beszel shares space with an entire other city, Ul Qoma. The cities don't so much co exist, it is far more complicated than that, and learning how this extraordinary state of affairs effects general life for the citizens of both cities is one of the real joys of this novel so I will not say more.
The joy of Mieville's writing is the precision and detail of his ideas. I have also recently read The Scar, by Mieville and found this true for that novel also. His novels are awe-inspiring in their conception and meticulous follow through. The writing is first rate, and I think certainly fits that mercurial description of literary; you have to work a little, there is no spoon feeding. It is probably contentious to put the description literary to science fiction or fantasy but I certainly believe the work of Mieville fits that bill.
This is not a novel that is driven by strong characterisation or aiming for the usual type of emotional engagement from the reader. It is an intellectual exercise, and one, I found to be breath-taking and fascinating. I guess too, my enjoyment of this book surprises me as I would have thought I needed a strong connection to character to see me through a novel. I have learned that is not the case. I do have an emotional response toMieville's work, and it is simply, a jaw dropping "wow!"
The cityscapes that Mieville creates in The City and the City, will remain with me, and not just because they are so original and brilliantly realised. It is because he has used this setting to construct a complex and powerful metaphor of modern life. While there may not be a lot of emotional engagement with any one particular character, the whole sweep of the The City and the City evokes a strong sense of the disparity and contradictions that exist in our modern world, and that struck me at a human level. It is clever and captivating writing, and I look forward to reading more.