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The City & The City (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – April 27, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
It's a detective novel written in the first-person; the narrator is Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad. The writing style is relatively spare, reminescent of Dashiell Hammett. The narrator constrains himself strictly to observable phenomena and tells us nothing of characters' inner thoughts or emotional states, which makes the action seem very immediate and the narration very stark. Police procedures are presented believably but without too much detail. The case itself is not terribly elaborate. It starts with a murder, but about two-thirds of the way through I felt that the murder was no longer the focus. Inspector Borlu's investigation leads to fringe political groups, an archaeological site, a foreign country, and to somewhere else entirely. The setting of the novel is what makes the story work. There wouldn't be a story if it wasn't set in Beszel and Ul Qoma. It's a totally original concept, like nothing I have ever read before.
Beszel is a gloomy, decaying city which seems to be located somewhere in Eastern Europe. Ul Qoma is a bright, bustling city that seems either Arabic or Turkish. The relationship between the two cities is the central theme of the book. I can't tell you much about it without spoiling the beautiful unfolding of the novel. Of course Inspector Borlu takes everything for granted because he lives there; it's all familiar to him .. so instead of explaining things as one would to a foreign visitor, he lets details emerge through descriptions of sights and events, and the reader slowly pieces together details of the setting.Read more ›
There are books that you can read at a surface level, just taking in the words one at a time as they lay out character, setting and plot much like a computer loading an image. Mieville's books - and to a lesser extent his stories - tend to be more like jigsaw puzzles without the box. In his more fantastic work, it's less jarring than here because even at his most outre, he tends to tread familiar paths as far as story and plot, so you can keep up.
This, on the other hand, is a bit of noir fiction/magical realism, and it's a bit jarring to read about a hundred pages of the book before you're really given a handle as to exactly what's going on.
That aside, the overall plot of the book - not to mention the characters and, of course, the cities themselves - makes for a good read, but be prepared to devote a considerable amount of your brain's memory cache to this book until you're finished.
On the plus side, Mieville's style is distinctive, literary and interesting. "The City and the City" isn't something you've read a dozen times before; it's original, and for that reason alone it's worth reading. The SF and mystery genres seem to breed dozens of cut-rate "me too" novels for every truly interesting work, so just reading something new and different is worth a couple of stars alone. The characters are well-drawn and interesting, as are the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma.
On the minus side, every page of this book talks about the intersection between the cities in some way - the alter, the crosshatching and so on. After a while, we get it; the point doesn't have to be belabored. Speaking of the point, we also get the point about subcultures and minorities and what we see in daily life versus what we don't, which is all well and good. But either I missed the point of the novel as a whole or just didn't get it, because at the end my first reaction was, "so what?" I understand that Tyodor has changed as a result of his experience, but I would expect that from a character written by a good writer; again, my though was "so what?" The ending left me cold, as if the book just stopped. I got the impression that the identity of the killer just wasn't that important; that it just got picked out of a hat, and tossed in right at the end to satisfy those who would be disappointed if a murder mystery never identified the killer.
Having said that, "The City and the City" is at least worth borrowing from the library. The pros outweigh the cons, and if you don't love it, you will likely at least enjoy it.
Reading this book, you are plunged into this very strange concept of the two cites occuping same space right away. As the story develops, you learn how people living there deal with their unusual reality. The reader follows the main character, a police detective, as he investigates a murder. As he finds out more about the murder, the clues may lead to a bigger mystery and conspiracy. Finding out all the pieces of the puzzle as the detective does is part of the fun.
I adore China Mieville, his prose, his writing style and his unique concepts. I love most everything he has written. His books set in Bas-Lag are very intricate and complex and long. This book is NOT set in Bas-Lag, it is shorter than those novels, and a satisfying read by itself. Highly recommended.
One more recommendation: If you ever have the chance to hear the author in person, go see him. He is very gracious in person. He has a wonderful voice and I enjoyed hearing him read from one of his works when I had the chance to see him at a signing event.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I first found out about this book after listening to a lecture hosted by Keith Mitnick (Taubman College). Read morePublished 15 days ago by Morganne Walker
Really neat idea for a story, but if you asked me to describe the main character I couldn't do it. Beyond a couple describers that are given, you're free to imagine him as a robot... Read morePublished 16 days ago by K H
A friend recommended this book to me, and I discovered that the local library had a copy of the audiobook available, so I decided "what the heck? Read morePublished 20 days ago by S. Gates
When my brother in law recommended this book to me, the concept sounded very interesting. Take away this concept and you have a murder mystery that is about as complex as a... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Buttjams
A well crafted story. The setting of the two cities is brilliantly inventive and comes across as a place that is so believable. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Osvaldo Q
Mieville actually respects the conventions of the noir detective genre while introducing mild, plausible fantasy elements and playing on paranoid post 9-11 political flashes in... Read morePublished 3 months ago by K. Gross
The book is based on an interesting premise- it reminds me of a Balkan setting, say Kosovo or something similar. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Niki K
One of the greatest authors ever; this story is a classic detective novel set in some weird city(/ies). Fantastic.Published 3 months ago by bluegreensamurai