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China Miéville: The City & The City

I have had an ambivalent relationship with China Miéville. Perdido Street Station was an awesome mess of a Weird fantasy book, with so much inventiveness stuffed into it that I could forgive its occasional failings. The Scar was just about as good, so I grabbed Iron Council in hardcover the day it came out… and gave up a quarter of the way through. It was actually boring; how can that be? I didn’t even try his young adult novel, Un Lun Dun, so it’s been a while since I read one of his books. Which brings us to the just-released The City & The City, which luckily I didn’t have to buy in hardcover because Liza picked up a free (personally signed!) copy at Book Expo America the other month.

It’s a marked change from his other work. Instead of being an adventure set in a weird fantasy city of another world, it’s a police procedural set in a depressingly pedestrian fictional Eastern European city on Earth — pedestrian except for the whole point, which I will give away in the next paragraph so stop reading now if you want to experience the novel fresh, though it’s clear pretty early on what’s going on:

OK, here we go: the city in which the novel takes place is divided in two, like Berlin was, only the whole thing is divided, practically fractally. On any given street corner you can see parts of both cities, and you’re supposed to pretend not to notice the other half. Miéville does a great job of making this absurd situation seem almost reasonable once you’ve read enough of the book. Naturally the crime being investigated ends up having political implications, and that’s as much as I’m going to say because I’ve already said too much.

Anyway, it was great. I’ve seen some people complain about where the book ends up going, but I thought it was perfectly executed; I’d love to discuss it more but I’d have to figure out how to hide text. Maybe later. Very impressive and highly recommended for people who like a little weird in their crime novels or vice versa. Miéville’s back in my half of the city.

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