19 Feb 2012

Review: "The City & The City" by China Miéville

China Miéville must be one of the coolest names ever! I came across his book "Kraken" in a book shop and the author's name alone was enough to have me curious: I had to read something by the author with the fascinating name. In the end I went for "The City & The City" as I have seen it reviewed, praised and mentioned all over the blogosphere. It is one of those books that was a little bit difficult to get into... Possibly because I was reading it in public transport and kept being interrupted but once I had read the first few pages, I was captured by the story.

Inspector Tyador Borlu is a classic cop. He works in the Extreme Crime Squad in Beszel, an Eastern European city located somewhere in the near region of Hungary. When a young, unknown woman is found murdered, Borlu is assigned to the case and he very quickly realizes that something is not what it seems like and that this case may transcends the borders of Beszel.
So an international crime fiction, you now think? Oh no my dear, it is much more than that. The nearest neighbor to Beszel is the city Ul Qoma. Actually, neighbors is note the correct term, the two city are arch-enemies and interwoven in the most intricate way imaginable. Once it was one city but it was divided, a bit, I imagine, like it happened to Berlin. However, the division did not happen by somebody drawing a clear line, instead each building, each square meter was assigned to either Beszel or Ul Qoma and now it is up to the good Ul Qoman and Besz citizens to unsee the parts of their daily lives that lies in another city. Difficult to fathom? A bit, at first, but also fascinating and incredibly addictive.

The story itself is a true crime story, with each page the reader is taken deeper and deeper into the realms of Ul Qoma and Beszel as Borlu uncovers the identity of the young woman and follows her trail across the border to the university in Ul Qoma. It turns out that the young woman, Mahalia Geary, was a student specializing in archeology but spending more time pursuing old folk tales about Orciny, a city in between the two cities and something that comes very close to being illegal.

"The City & The City" is an amazing piece of urban, weird fiction. It is something special in the best sense of the word. The way it explores the Eastern European legacies of division (Czech Republic and Slovakia), secret police (Eastern Germany) and bureucracy  is fascinating because it takes these things to a whole new level, introducing the scary secret service Breach that steps into action whenever the two cities inevitably clash and one becomes aware of the other.
The crime story is good, though the ending was a little bit disappointing because I had seen it coming. It  could have been more radical, more extreme and more fantastical - that would have worked better for me. But as a whole it is a stunning book. It could actually be quite a contender for my top ten books of 2012 and I hope that you will give it a try.

Read it if: You have a fascination with Eastern Europe and like weird, urban fiction that challenges your imagination. If you enjoyed "Purge" by Sofi Oksanen or "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman.

1 comment:

  1. Every once in a while Mieville does something I don't think was the best choice, but I love, love, love his books, his mind, his unique look at things. The City and the City is one of my favorites, but also his 2011 release, Embassytown is amazing.