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This Census-Taker Paperback – January 3, 2017
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“China Miéville is a magician . . . who can both blow your mind with ideas as big as the universe and break your heart with language so precise and polished, it’s like he’s writing with diamonds.”—NPR
“The book haunts the reader; what actually happened seems always just out of reach, glimpsed in shadow as it rounds a corner ahead of our vision.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“[Mieville’s] been compared to Karen Russell and George Saunders, and rightfully so.”—The Huffington Post
“Lingers in the mind like an unsettling dream.”—Financial Times
“A thought-provoking fairy tale for adults . . . [This Census-Taker] resembles the narrative style, quirkiness, and plotting found in the works of Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, or Steven Millhauser.”—Booklist
“Brief and dreamlike . . . a deceptively simple story whose plot could be taken as a symbolic representation of an aspect of humanity as big as an entire society and as small as a single soul.”—Kirkus Reviews
From the Hardcover edition.
From the Inside Flap
A boy ran down a hill path screaming. This running, screaming boy has witnessed something terrible, something so awful that he cannot even properly articulate it. All he can do is run. His story is investigated, but no evidence is found to support it, and so in the end, he is sent back. Back up that hill path to the site of his terror, to live with the parent who caused it. The boy tries to escape. He flees to a gang of local children but they can't help him. The town refuses to see his danger. He is alone. Then a stranger arrives. A stranger who claims his job is to ask questions, seek truth. Who can, perhaps, offer safety. Or whose offer may be something altogether different, something safety is no part of. In This Census-Taker, multiple award-winning writer China Miville offers a story made of secrets and subtle reveals, of tragedy and bravery, of mysteries that shift when they appear to be known. It is a stunning work, full of strangeness and power. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
As for the rest, this is a delightfully weird, ambiguous tale, full of brooding atmosphere and misdirection. On the very first page, we see signs of experimentation to come: a narrator who switches from first-person to third-person in the space of a paragraph. Those who seek a more literary flare combined with genre elements (the author himself decries the division between literary fiction and genre fiction, and does his best to commingle the best of each) will be pleased to see the author try.
And try he does. I almost gave this three stars, but the author's sheer boldness and temerity to take any risks at all, even when he falters, is something very few literary juggernauts are wont to do; rather, they prefer to stick to the same ol' conventions that catapulted them into the literary supremacy. Moreover, Mieville has dared to venture into stand-alone novellas, which is arguably the ideal form for his mode of fiction. But standards for high page count in publishing dictate many writers' processes, usually to their detriment: the most common sin is excessive padding, a blatant disregard for the readers' attention spans, and a penchant for logodiarrhea where concision would suffice.
Mieville is ever bold, unfettered, and generous with his pen; he refuses to acquiesce to the market's demands. He is always surprising, and that is the reason I will continue to buy/read his works. That is the reason I give this four stars instead of three.
(I can't say the same for Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Franzen, or even Salman Rushdie, at this point. A novel has to actually be novel.)
Is this a bad story? No. Is it a good story? No. It's a fairly short story sold under its own cover and doesn't hold up to either being its own title or having a price like a novel. It tells the story of a boy, his difficult family life and how he ends up in what seems to be an interesting profession. But, the most interesting elements of the story (why the census is being taken as it is, his father's history and profession and the discovered details of his father's deeds) are all left unexplained. Mieville frequently leaves some interesting pieces of stories unexplained, but in this case, those were the only interesting things. I'm fine if he leaves a few things unexplained and details out others because the payoff on those is well worth the price of admission. But here, every aspect is left to speculation. That was probably intentional and meant to portray the world as the young boy would see it, but it leaves the reader wanting something to cling to.
Bear with me on this comparison here to the works of Philip K. Dick (PKD). I once told a friend that if you started out reading Dick's The Man in the High Castle you would find a coherent, fairly traditional (and outstanding) novel. You might then proceed to read other works by Dick and I'm pretty sure you'd be totally confused (a lot of his work is undeniably confusing, non-linear, and even insane). The Man in the High Castle spoils the reader into thinking PKD's other works would be similar. This is not so.
The opposite happens, too. If you read some of PKD's oeuvre before The Man in the High Castle, you'd think all of his works are experimental, surreal, philosophical, and confusing. When you then read The Man in the High Castle, you might think as I did, "Where did THIS come from?"
And so it is with Mieville and this novella, This Census-Taker. If you've never read Mieville, don't start with this book - it will just confuse you and might keep you away from his more accessible creations. Do come back and read it after digesting several of his other works. If you have read a lot of Mieville, this will be an interesting adventure. For me, it was a literary treat that kept me spellbound.
Mind, I wouldn't compare the literature of PKD with Mieville, except in the above context. In fact, this book reminds me more of something written by John Crowley. Both Crowley and Mieville (at least in this book) create a sense of unease merely by the style of their writing.
So I see this described as a "novella" and I wonder what the definition of that means since this comes in over 200 pages. But it is a novella, at least in the sense that the story arc, even at 200 pages, is fairly limited in complexity. In the end, it doesn't really matter.
The setting of This Census-Taker is rural and small town, another deviation from Mieville's usual urban settings. The village and hills of This Census Taker are at the one end of the urban-rural spectrum. A typical Mieville work is also explicitly surreal and fantastic. There is no concrete magic or technology here. There is a bridge. There is a hole in the ground where trash is dumped. There are goats. There are street urchins. There is a murder. Maybe several? Maybe none? Nothing jumps out and grabs you as true fantasy. Yet it still comes across feeling fantastic. When it's "just" fiction.
There is a plot. There is a protagonist. There are characters. You see them through a film of traditional language that shifts subtly, often without even realizing that it is happening. Everything starts with the title: "This Census-Taker." Why not "THE Census Taker"? Why not "A Census Taker"? "Tale of the Census Taker"? Or just "Census Taker"?
In the end, no matter where you go, there you are.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This has been a good year for lovers of China Mieville’s short fiction, with two novellas...Read more