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The City & The City (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – April 27, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Better known for New Weird fantasies (Perdido Street Station, etc.), bestseller Miéville offers an outstanding take on police procedurals with this barely speculative novel. Twin southern European cities Beszel and Ul Qoma coexist in the same physical location, separated by their citizens' determination to see only one city at a time. Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad roams through the intertwined but separate cultures as he investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, who believed that a third city, Orciny, hides in the blind spots between Beszel and Ul Qoma. As Mahalia's friends disappear and revolution brews, Tyador is forced to consider the idea that someone in unseen Orciny is manipulating the other cities. Through this exaggerated metaphor of segregation, Miéville skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is not as filled with wonders as Perdido St. Station or the Iron Council and the language and imagery is terse by comparison. But as I reflect upon the fundamental message of unseeing in a dense, diverse city, this work gets kudos for opening the eyes. When we walking in a city we know, or one we hardly know there places and especially people we unsee perhaps unconsciously as much as we focus on what we do see. This is also true of amusement parks, where we unsee those that keep it clean and running.
The book's all about building a believable alternate world, and this it does brilliantly.
Apologies if I'm gushing (sure, all the cool kids already knew China Mieville was great...) so in the interests of finding some false balance, let me find a few faults. Tough, but if it were me, I'd have pushed the inspector's relationship with his female constable to see where that might go, and I'da thrown in a bit more humour, but hey, I'm just looking for nits to pick. This is great stuff. Loved it.
However, the book never really addresses the deeper mystery of the two contiguous and even overlapping cities. There is the obvious point of the book, that all of us see only what we focus on or what we have been trained to see (or "notsee"), rather than seeing everything that is actually there to see. Also, we all learn that there are boundaries, and some of those boundaries are dangerous to cross. So the cities work as allegory, but not so much as believable cities with a history and a reason for being the way that they are presented in the novel.
Mieville's work has been described by others as dark and depressive, and this book is no exception. This is one of those books I would just as soon never have read, in spite of its originality and craftmanship. It is ultimately off-putting. I do not remember the book with any pleasure. Still, I recognize that my opinion probably reflects more on me than on the author. Each reader will have to make his/her own evaluation.
So I imagine myself as the writer and I want to write a story about what it would take for the Muslims and the Jews in Jerusalem to co-exist. Or in the West Bank - really anywhere there are two "peoples" who hate each other and keep killing each other. How could I create a world where they co-exist?
Mieville created that world.
He created two societies that live together in the same town on the same streets or on different streets, in the same buildings or different buildings, but sometime in the distant past, seemed to have made an agreement to not acknowledge the existence of the other city.
So from childhood, children are trained to "unsee" anyone or anything not of their city. The dress is different, the walk is different, the architecture is different (which is really a fascinating struggle to capture), yet it would be like me being across the street from you but pretending strongly enough that I eventually would not see you and you would not see me.
And to make things more complex, there is a penalty. If a citizen of either city should break this "rule" and "see" a person in the other city, a secret police sort of group, called Breach, appears from the shadows with invincible power and grabs you and you disappear. (Another type of unseen.) So this is how we keep the peace? We pretend we don't see each other, we put blinders on ourselves and we give unlimited authority to some "nether" organization to enforce our pretense.
It is really scary if you start to follow all the strands of how this interplays with our "real" world and our "real" politics, yet alone the way we "unsee" anyone who is really poor, or maimed, or crippled or homeless. Humans already have a tendency to unsee. Mieville has just take it to the most damning level.
Other reviews have postulated it is more like string theory and they are in alternative universes but really, whatever.
I also found myself trying to make my own sense out of the names of the cities. Is U1 Coma mean - I'm in a coma? Is Beszel - really This Be Jail? Now none of that is true, of course. Just my rumination. But how often does a book ensnare and puzzle you to such a degree that you sit down and try to come up with why the plot even exists and what the indecipherable words mean?
I think it a masterpeice of creativity. Really ingenious. And there is, along with this sci fi wonderful craziness, a great mystery and a detective that you come to care a great deal about. In other words, we have plot and character development. Voila. A great novel.