Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The City & The City by China Miéville

Posted by Simcha 6:01 PM, under | 3 comments

I have always avoided murder mystery novels though lately I seem to reading quite a few of them as so many fantasies are now creeping over the genre line to mingle in other categories. Had I come across The City and the City in a bookstore and read the back cover, I would never have even bothered cracking it open as the story it described, of a detective and a murder, is not one that particularly appeals to me. But what the book blurb fails to mention, and what I found out about in a review, is the uniqueness of the city in which the murder takes place, and that is what has had me anxious to get a hold of this book.

Early one morning the body of a young woman is found near a skateboard park, in the European city of Beszel. Inspector Tyador Borlu is summoned to the scene where he begins the investigation of what appear to be a routine case, until he discovers that the woman was recently a student in Ul Qoman, making this possibly a crime of Breach

No one knows who Breach is or where they come from, but it’s the job of Breach to maintain the strict laws keeping Beszel and Ul Qoman separate. Although the two cities exist in the same geographical space as each other and there are areas where the two interlap it is strictly forbidden for the citizens of each city to acknowledge that the other is there. From a young age, Beszel and Ul Qoman children are taught how to “unsee” the people and places around them, in the “other city,” so that they will never be guilty of violating Breach, the most feared crime of all.

If the murder involved Breach then naturally the case should be passed over to the Breach unit who would track down and punish the culprit in their own mysterious ways, but new evidence suddenly appears forcing the case back into Inspector Borlu’s hands. Now Tyador Borlu will be forced to cross the border into the city that he “unsees” every day in order to solve a crime that is far more dangerous and complicated then he could have ever imagined.

City and the City was just a really cool book. It offers a story that is fresh and unique, though readers of detective noir novels will probably find much that is familiar to them here.

What I particularly liked about this book was how Mieville manages to make the impossible situation of the two cities seem natural and believable. While we learn about the situation, its history and its effect on every day life, this actually isn’t the focus of the story. Information about the two cities is provided as a part of the background, and often as part of the investigation, but it never takes over the story, making the situation seem as acceptable to the reader as it is to the book characters.

    An Elderly woman was walking slowly away from me in a shambling sway. She turned her head and looked at me. I was struck by her motion, and I met her eyes. I wondered if she wanted to tell me something. In my glance I took in her clothes, her way of walking, of holding herself, and looking.

    With a hard start I realized that she was not on Gunter-Strasz at all, and that I should not have seen her.

    Immediately and flustered I looked away, and she did the same, with the same speed. I raised my head towards an aircraft on its final descent. When after some seconds I looked back up, unnoticing the old woman stepping heavily away, I looked carefully instead of at her in her foreign street, at the facades of the nearby and local Gunter-Strasz, that depressed zone.

Though occasionally an outsider will enter the scene, expressing their independent thoughts on the Beszel/ Ul Qoman situation, and the reader will be reminded at how bizarre the whole thing really is.

And while I really enjoyed The City & the City I will admit that I often got distracted by the overly complex sentences that Mieville seems fond of and which had me rereading some of the same sentence several times in order to understand what they were saying. The dialogue was also not as good as it could have been, which was particularly noticeable in the interactions between Borlu and the female police office who was assisting him, Corwi. Although Borlu seems to view Corwi as a smart and intelligent police officer who he could rely on in times of crisis, she doesn’t actually make any intelligent comments to back this up, which made me wonder why Borlu thought so highly of her.

I was pleased to find The City & the City to be a wonderfully told story with a tightly woven and well paced plot that had me completely engrossed the whole way through. My months of waiting to read The City and the City were definitely worth it and I’m now looking forward to trying out more of Mieville’s other books.

This review counts towards the Once Upon A Time Challenge reading challenge


Great review! Can't wait to read it!

I'm scared. I've never read Mieville before I'm not sure where to start.

Aleksandra: Are you planning on reading it soon? If so, I look forward to hearing your thought on the book.

WonderBunny: Well, I haven't read anything else of his but I would say The City and the City is a good place to start. I certainly enjoyed it. I've heard good things about his newest novel Kraken, as well, but the cover just turns me off.

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