Thursday, September 10, 2009

The City & the City

Here's my brief review of China Miéville's latest novel, The City & the City, cross-posted from goodreads. (In an effort to avoid spoilers, I suspect this will seem a little vague. But much of the fun of the novel is in figuring out what he's talking about, so hopefully the vagueness will not put you off reading it.)

It is nice to see China Miéville stretch himself a bit with his new novel, The City & the City. I enjoyed Perdido Street Station quite a lot, and while he's touching on some of the same ideas here, this is no repeat.

In some ways the detective genre has disciplined his writing. His canvas is much smaller here than with PSS, his socialist politics pushed to the background and his ornate prose streamlined. He has given himself another rich urban setting--two cities in fact, bizarrely intertwined, the setting for a murder.

And yet I am reminded of a review I once read of Jose Saramago's great novel, Blindness. The reviewer was puzzled as to what, exactly, the plague of blindness in that book represented. He concluded that Blindness was ultimately a novel about "not being able to see." I took that to mean that the book was powerfully resonant of all the horrors of the 20th century - war, genocide, etc. - but in the end abstracted beyond all specifics.

Something similar is happening with TC&TC. Miéville is careful not to make his allegory too ham-fisted. Instead he makes it a puzzle to solve - and a hook on which to hang our political obsessions. Certainly, it seems, he must be talking about the status of immigrants, or minorities, or the invisibility of the poor. Bilingual nations, multicultural cities. Or all of the above. Or something.

Like PSS, the ending is unsatisfying, but for the opposite reason. Here Miéville isn't stuck piling useless subplots atop one another, rather he has over-corrected and cuts his plot short with an ending that left me wanting more more, and not in a good way.

At any rate, I never got bored with this one, and I continue to be impressed with Miéville as a writer. I'm just waiting for him to hit one out of the park.

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