Thursday, February 10, 2011

The City & the City

It's been a while since I've updated this blog. Now that we have Facebook and Twitter as forums to communicate all the quirky sites we come across and interesting ideas that pop into our heads, it seems it takes something extraordinary before I feel the urge to blog.

Well, that something extraordinary recently occurred in the form of a novel: The City & the City ( link), by China Miéville. Miéville is known primarily as a fantasy writer, and yet if, as was my case, this is the first novel of his you were to read, you'd never know it. Aside from the novel's setting in a completely fictional city (or cities, to be precise), it is wholly grounded in present day reality. In essence, it's a murder mystery, and yet calling it that is like calling Nineteen Eighty-Four a love story. The mystery is there to drive the story along, but so much else is going on that one almost forgets the novel's basic premise at times.

It's the setting of The City & the City—so original and startling—that makes reading it such an extraordinary experience from beginning to end. I hesitate to describe it further; I would hate to deprive you the pleasure of allowing it to unfold in your mind, of discovering and experiencing its weirdness for yourself, and of marvelling at how quickly and easily the human mind adapts to something so strange. I'm torn because I'm eager to talk about the book, to describe my feelings and reactions to it; but on the other hand, I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it. But if a review you must have, read the one by Michael Moorcock in The Guardian. That said, I for one am glad I read it "cold," so to speak.

I suppose the novel is not for everyone. If you can't suspend your disbelief just a tad, then you probably won't grok this novel. I think most readers of SF and fantasy will enjoy it, but I also think many readers of crime fiction will also appreciate it. The main character, Inspector Tyador Borlú is extremely sympathetic, and Miéville hasn't ruled out writing other stories based on this character, although for reasons that become clear at the end of this novel, they would all have to be prequels. In other words, The City & the City is the last Inspector Borlú mystery. Borlú reminds me a bit of Dona Leon's Commissario Brunetti. He's introspective like Brunetti, and he's not afraid to bend the rules, but he's an honest man who takes his job seriously, aware that he's somewhat of a rare breed.

The City & the City is a statement on the amazing human capacity to adapt. It's one of the most interesting and original novels I've read in a very long time. I can't recommend it highly enough. If you have read it, let me know what you thought about it in the comments.

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