Wednesday, 29 December 2010

New take on twin cities

One of the books I've read while travelling over the past couple of months is The city and the city, by China Miéville. I hadn't read any of his books before, partly because I couldn't decide which one to start on and kept receiving different recommendations from my friends. So when this one was joint winner of the Hugo Award this year, I felt it was a sign.

It's a fascinating book, where the reader is thrust into a strange environment of superimposed cities (somewhere at the edge of Europe) with zero explanation. Gradually, through the careful placement of information tidbits and then more detailed exposition, you build up a picture of how the cities coexist, the differences in their cultures, and the various rules of the two societies. These then become fundamental to the main plot, which at heart is essentially a police procedural crime (murder) novel, albeit in a very different world from our own.

I have perhaps revealed too much here, for Miéville clearly wants readers to know nothing of the setup prior to reading, but I think you can get this much from various Amazon reviews... And, anyway, the premise is so original and intriguing that this in itself is the perfect hook.

It's not a fast-paced novel, with events instead playing out at a pace that reflects the strict bureaucracy of Miéville's world and the police-world in general. The main character is an experienced senior detective from one of the cities, and we follow his efforts to solve a murder tangled with international conspiracies, while having some of his core beliefs shaken. He's a likable, highly competant character, and forms interesting relationships with the various other colleagues, suspects and witnesses he deals with throughout the novel.

The writing is sparse, and the unique urban setting and the characters sketched with broad strokes, so that the novel almost feels allegorical in tone. I admit that I generally prefer novels with more flesh on the bones (and more attention paid to character), but I was nevertheless engrossed by this book and its ideas. I would recommend it to anyone who likes something a little weird and doesn't mind working a little harder than normal! I'm definitely up for another Miéville novel; just need to decide which one!


  1. Does sound good. I might try and make it my holiday reading. Cheers!

  2. I really loved "The City and The City". I thought it was Iain Bankes-like in its scope, le Carre-like in execution, and I thought he sketched his characters much like P.D. James (you can tell Mieville and I both read a lot of British literature!). Loved it , loved it! So pleased you liked it too.