City & The City, The

China Mieville
New York Times bestselling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other–real or imagined.When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.


Reviewed: 2016-11-25
Very interesting setting and idea - really stretches your brain just to imagine yourself in Mieville's world. And it hangs together as a police procedural well.
Reviewed: 2016-01-31

YES this book is just as brilliant as you've heard. YES, I highly recommend it to everyone! But, a word of caution: wait until you're ready. Ready to fully accept, imbibe, enjoy a surreal journey into a fantastical play on worlds/words. I can see myself picking this up a year ago, when my thing was medieval historical fiction, and throwing The City & the City at a wall in extreme frustration, most likely postponing reading- hopefully not indefinitely. 

Here's why: from the very start we are immersed in an incomprehensible world explained through even less comprehensible language. Not to theClockwork Orange extreme, but still possibly off-putting to those of us who aren't used to/don't read books peppered with concocted words which - this is the clincher - are used to describe a truly bizarre imaginary world (made even more bizarre by its proximity to our actual world. It's like, first you're in wacko Beszel and then Mieville mentions visitors to the country from Germany or Canada, and Beszel's involvement in WWII, and you're like WTF where am I?). 

Then there's the ways in which Mieville constructs sentences, even those with words fully ensconced in a Merriam-Webster, that are so profoundly... weird (so I also found, in my google travels, that there's an entire genre, "weird fiction", and that China Mieville is one of its gods). Like everyone is always in some kind of panic (each conversation starts with "Fuck, ____, what the fuck are we going to do/we are fucking screwed/what the fuck is going on"), like there is an entire layer of implicit deliberation we are not privy to except through our own creative prowess.

At first, it was incredibly hard to read this - until I wiki-ed "what the fuck was going on" and got a basic breakdown of Breach, breaching, alter, crosshatch, total areas, etc (I highly recommend this - it won't "spoil" the cities). After, I still had to practice letting go of a significant amount of control (VERY difficult as you may imagine) in order to enjoy The City & the city, for this book is really best read in a blank-state. Any preconceptions are sure to diminish the possibility of full immersion and appreciation. Openness is the best approach. 

I detract 1 star for two reasons (had only one been at issue, I would have gone with 5). First, all the cursing :( I usually put a book down after a couple curse words, or make it through but never read the author again. Not because I'm morally offended, but because 99.9% of the time, it's a cop-out to curse in literature, and I'm a book snob. With Mieville, there's about 50 curse words/chapter (or maybe more), and EVERY single conversation includes at least ten fucks. Most of the time, it fit, and I was going to not even mention it. But really, by the end, it got a little ridiculous ("Fuck, fuck, what the fuck are we going to do, fuck!"). Had there been more like 48.5 curse words per chapter, I may have said no more. But Mieville let it spill a little over the threshold.

The second reason is related to the resolution. MAJOR SPOILER FOLLOWS. 

[The whole investigation becomes about the dangerous place between the two cities, Orciny. And I so hoped and wanted to know more about this in-between. It was incredibly sad to read that indeed, Orciny did not exist, that it was all a ploy run by businessmen to make profits, and that Breach was just other Breachers, who could not "unsee" what they had breached. There seemed so many more possibilities for philosophical exploration to indeed imagine a third space (perhaps that occupies both but is unseen by others - i.e. Breach is Orciny). I can also see the point made by the actual resolution - it usually IS about money, and there usually IS no more "inherently evil" other dimension controlling it all. But still. 

Personal preference only, but I wanted Breach to be Orciny. It's like, do you believe that the "higher power" controlling human behavior is greed, and that there is no other organized impulse beyond this greed? OR do you believe there's an entire class of people who see it "as it is" but impose restrictions and deploy propaganda to keep others in their rightful, subordinate place? 

For me, it's the latter - as an educator, it's become increasingly clear to me that what people lack is KNOWLEDGE. So many if not most of our ills degenerate from a lack of openness and understanding stemming from ignorance. So I liked the idea that Breach was a power that saw BOTH but deployed tactics of intimidation and gestapo-style leadership to keep everyone ignorant and in their place (also I am a child of communism so of course, this is my preferred question: how does one administer such control?)

But, Mieville seems to prefer the greed explanation - and the much more simple solution that people willfully chose to keep themselves in place by acting the "blind sheep" (perhaps rightly so, and as a Brit who's only known life under capitalism first hand, this preference makes sense.)

(hide spoiler)]

Overall: HIGHLY Imaginative and ABSOLUTELY Unique portrayal of the separations between people, of mechanisms enforcing these separations, of the power of individual relationships, etc, etc. Definitely "One of the 100 you must read in a lifetime"

The City and The City was my first Miéville book to make it to my TBR pile, but I’ve got Bad News. It’ll be awhile until my TBR stack will see another Miéville…

I’ve found it wanting, mostly. It seemed like an ambitious exercise that was poorly executed. For the most part, it’s a withered novel, and the story suffers as a result. There’s not a lot of world-building, and in an existential and fictionalized world, it takes away from the reliance of these places. It just seems like a run-of-the-mill crime novel in an extraordinary location. The main character, Borlu, suffers from chronic lethargy and a lack of personality. The other characters, namely Corwi, were bland nothings. Simple as that. He tried to stay away from the usual cynic that we see in the best Crime Fiction, but left me seeing no personality. Borlu was more a vehicle than anything. There are lots of gaps between me and what he was trying to communicate. His made-up words, without either defining them or including them in a context that might have implied their meaning is what creates the abovementioned gaps. I kept wondering whether he had established a SFictional vocabulary in other books. In every great book there’s always a dividing line between a writer’s understanding of their own ideas, and the readers’ grasp of that same ideas. Good writers manage to offer cognizance over that line, without actually stepping over it. Not having read anything from him before “The City and the City”, I’m not sure what to think. At the end of the day, I didn’t care about the world he had conjured, because it seemed only half thought-out.

Another pet peeve for me was the fact that he kept spelling out the main themes of the book in the dialogue of his characters (a really, bad, bad literary device in my book).

Concept wise is the only point where Miéville scores and he scores in a big way (3 stars for that). Unfortunately cool ideas are not enough to make a book.

SF has a lot more to offer than being just okay. I can’t see how it won the Clarke Award, I sure don’t.

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@aemostrom began #citythecitythe... on 2015-01-20