|The City & The City
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New York Times bestselling author China Mi¨¦ville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other–real or imagined.
When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borl¨² of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.
Borl¨² must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borl¨² is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.
What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.
Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.
- Nice Change-up
In a break from the stylings of his earlier work, the author took a stab at a crime novel, albeit set in quirky split city. The premise is quite interesting and Mr. Mieville is in his element when creating cities. The story itself was a bit rushed, moving rapidly along the main plotline and sharing much of what would normally be character development with fleshing out the details of the twin cities and their cultures. As such, while enjoyable the novel feels rushed and at times hollow. ...more info
- Procedural, Puzzle, Parable
China Mieville's intricately intriguing "The City and The City" starts out like a typical police procedural. Set in the fictional East European city-state of Beszel, it begins with the death of a young woman and the arrival on the scene of Inspector Borlu, who is the novel's first-person narrator as well as the lead detective on the case. It doesn't take long (the closing paragraphs of the first chapter, actually) before something strange occurs, and you begin to have intimations that whatever "Europe" this is, it isn't ours.
And indeed, step by the step the inspector describes his world--where two interlocking, overlapping cities, his rather backward Beszel and the richer, stranger, more Asian Ul Qoma occupy the same space/time. The book's two genres overlap, too. The author is careful to adhere to all the police procedural conventions the genre requires--the dogged inspector, the faithful assistant, the cynical chief, the squabbling politicians, the false leads, and so forth. But the fantasy part, filled as always with Mr. Mieville's delight at creating new and fascinating cities ("Perdido Street Station," "The Iron Council," etc.) and his unique, imaginative speculations, evoke Kafka and Borges as well as Delany's Bellona, and some recent works of M. John Harrison (e.g., "Light," "Nova Swing"). In some sense, one can say that like the two interlocking cities themselves the narrative is sometimes all police procedural, sometimes all fantasy, and sometimes crosshatched.
It's a gem.
Notes and asides: In the handout slipped into my VINE advance copy (thanks, Amazon!), we're urged to avoid spoilers. I would have done so in any case. This is a book that reveals itself slowly, layer by layer....more info
- A change of pace, but still peculiar
Much ado has been made of the change in tone and character in this most recent book, and it's true that the language is a dramatic departure from his typical baroque style, but it still bears something in common with pretty much everything Mieville writes: it requires quite a lot from the reader.
There are books that you can read at a surface level, just taking in the words one at a time as they lay out character, setting and plot much like a computer loading an image. Mieville's books - and to a lesser extent his stories - tend to be more like jigsaw puzzles without the box. In his more fantastic work, it's less jarring than here because even at his most outre, he tends to tread familiar paths as far as story and plot, so you can keep up.
This, on the other hand, is a bit of noir fiction/magical realism, and it's a bit jarring to read about a hundred pages of the book before you're really given a handle as to exactly what's going on.
That aside, the overall plot of the book - not to mention the characters and, of course, the cities themselves - makes for a good read, but be prepared to devote a considerable amount of your brain's memory cache to this book until you're finished....more info
- A surprising, revealing new work by Mieville
Strip out the thesaurus-on-overdrive wordplay, along with the bizarre amalgam of fantasy, myth and dark fantasy, and do you still have a China Mieville book?
As The City and The City proves, yes, you do.
Mieville is best known for critically acclaimed works like Perdido Street Station and The Scar, which were as heavy with dense wording as they were with nightmarish imagery. A Lovecraft for the 21st Century, a William Gibson filtered through Kafka night fevers, Mieville crafted worlds built of the familiar, but stacked in ugly, misshapen ways so as to make something new of them.
And we loved it.
Yet with The City and The City all that is (seemingly) cast by the wayside. This is a police procedural, of all things, and one written in relatively straight-forward language. Not the recipe his fans clamor for. Sure, we don't recognize the city names, but it all seems ordinary enough at first. Once fans sink into this book, though, I suspect they'll be glad Mieville opted not to retread his previous territory, because this is as full of intrigue and wonder as anything he's done before.
That's because this work is not all that far removed from his prior work after all. In approach, yes, dramatically so, but not in spirit. A city (two, in fact) once again serves almost as a character of its own, always a vital element to his work. Further, the somewhat ordinary sounding premise gives way to an increasingly fantastic and subtle kind of wonder, the kind in which the setting takes on a life of its own and begins to live and breath.
The pace is slow and deliberate, but fans of Perdido Street Station won't mind that. The stripped-down, noir-influenced approach will seem unfamiliar at first until the Mieville traits start to reveal themselves. And as he is wont to do, the author does not spell out the magic of his world, instead allowing the reader to experience it on their own, always wondering and questioning and delighting.
China Mieville fans are going to be surprised by this one. Maybe even a bit taken aback at first. But if they allow themselves to sink into the seemingly mundane world Mieville is weaving they'll come to find that The City and The City is as rich and wonderful a work as his fan favorites....more info
- Intriguing "Tale of Two Cities", occupying the same Space/Time
Somewhere outside London are the twin cities of Beszal and Ul Qoma; but they are not necessarily neighbors - they occupy the same Space and Time as each other, with "Crosshatches" of overlapping. It's illegal to cross these tenuous borders except through Corpula Hall, the "official border". Even noticing the other city in your sights is illegal, you must "un-see" everything in the opposite city. If an illegal entry is made from one city to the other, the Breach is invoked. The Breach is neither city, yet controls both.
Inspector Tyador Borlu from Beszel and Constable Lizbyet Corwi are called to a murder scene in Beszel, but it soon becomes clear that the woman, eventually discovered to be an archeology student named Mahalia Geary from Ul Qoma, was actually murdered in Ul Qoma and dumped in Beszel. Borlu tries to invoke the Breach, but can't because no breach occurred during the murder. He travels legally over the border to Ul Qoma to work with local Inspector Qussim Dhatt.
Mahalia was into "Orciny", a fabled third city between the cracks of Beszel and Ul Qoma. There is a large archeological dig in Ul Qoma where she was working with dishonored professor Bowden, who once wrote a (banned) book on Orciny called 'Between The City And The City'. What had Mahalia found that she was murdered over? Who was she involved with? What or where is Orciny, and will Inspector Borlu have to Breach to find out?
It seems impossible that China Mieville could write a bad book. I'm a huge fan of his. 'The City And The City' is a departure from Mieville's usual style though. It's more gritty and precise rather than languishing in rich and flowing prose. It lacks the mystery, beauty, and anomalous schema of 'Perdido Street Station' and 'The Scar', and unfortunately lacks the usual fully-fleshed characterizations of Mieville's past works. I felt like I hardly knew Borlu though the story is told in first person by him. First person may not be Mieville's strongest suit.
Yet with it's faults comes it's strengths. As spoken by senior editor Chris Schluep, Mieville's strongest suit is his world-building; cities in particular, as evident in 'Cities' and in 'Perdido Street Station'. The conjoined cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma are artistically painted in the depth and color of the well-written word. 'The City And The City' takes you to a magical place right here in our own world; they feel so real you might find yourself wanting a Visa just to visit. The streets and towers, the parks and town centers, the blending of one into the other, all makes for a fantastic read. Add to this the intensity of a murder mystery and you've got the key to a successful novel. Though different than his usual work, I loved reading 'The City And The City'. I hope you do too. A solid five stars. Enjoy!
- Brilliant exploration of the detective genre
China Mieville is best known for two things: his urban writing exploring the twists of cities partially real (Un Lun Dun and underground London in King Rat) to over-the-top alien (New Crobuzon and the Armada in Perdido Street Station and Scar respectively) and for his baroque writing which I would liken to a swordmaster showing off to a drunken crowd. With the title, we know that the urbanphile will be present, but it's rather a surprise that the flowery language I associate with Mieville is nowhere to be found. This is a detective novel(TM) and the cynical, cold language of that style flows effortlessly from China's pen. (Okay, word processor, so who's being flowery now?)
This is a tale of two cities vaguely positioned in the outskirts of Eastern Europe, Beszel and Ul-Qoma. The boundary between the cities is fluid, mysterious thing, certainly not a physical journey. And a murder involves both co-located cities, the city and the city of the title. More would be revealing too much, Mieville is famously anti-spoiler.
This is not as much of a work of fantasy as China Mieville's earlier works, but it's unlikely that his fans will be much disappointed. This story is so exquisitely told, full of unexpected details and diversions as the focus spreads from a crime story to an exploration of meanings. Regardless of genre identifications (and you do see the steampunk and new weird and dark fantasy labels hooked onto this book already) this is a great book, and I hope its literary significance will not be too hidden by the tags. This is science fiction much as Burroughs, Pynchon, Nabokov, and Ballard wrote science fiction....more info
- An Amazing Feat of Literary Legerdemain!
China Mieville, the British author of THE CITY & THE CITY, is one of the leading practitioners of a literary genre known as New Weird, a movement within speculative and fantasy fiction that focuses more on urban settings with a more realistic, "gritty" feel than more traditional fantasy settings. He is known for creating incredibly detailed, fully realized worlds within his novels as well as for his almost Baroque use of language.
In The CITY & THE CITY, he has created another mind-boggling world in the conjoined cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, but, in deference to the traditional style of police procedurals, he has greatly stripped down his normally ornate writing style. On so many levels, and in so many ways, THE CITY & THE CITY is a wonder to behold.
The novel opens in situ, with Inspector Tyador Borlu describing the scene as his colleagues work a Jane Doe murder in Beszel. But as he narrates the story for us it quickly becomes apparent that, despite its distinctly European location, this city is not like any other city in the world. That Beszel and its inhabitants operate in an environment and under a set of rules that are unlike anything most people are capable of imagining. That China Mieville could imagine this, and pull it off on paper, is an amazing literary feat. I read this book in a sort of stunned wonder, looking for the chinks that almost inevitably arise in a setting of this dazzling magnitude, and found none.
As Borlu works this murder he is led by the evidence to Ul Qoma, Beszel's rival, and finds himself working with Senior Detective Dhatt in circumstances that grow increasingly more perilous as they begin to edge ever closer to clashing with the feared authority that governs both cities: Breach. At its most basic level, the mystery that is THE CITY & THE CITY's ostensible raison d'etre is, truthfully, rather slight, but involving nonetheless.
The real meat of this book is the masterful creation of the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, and the themes that emerge from that act of creation. The most obvious theme is the issue of how we are trained from earliest childhood on to see the world, and, more importantly, not see the world. This training inevitably impacts the things we discuss and the things we dare not speak of, for fear of "breaching" the boundaries of our own "city's" acceptable behavior. While this is not an uncommon theme in literature, what is uncommon in THE CITY & THE CITY is manner in which this theme is introduced and explored. It provoked an unexpected response in my own reading of the book.
The city of Beszel is depicted in THE CITY & THE CITY as a rather "down at the heels" place: drab, depressed, old, and withering away. Its counterpart, Ul Qoma, is thriving, growing, vibrant, but also rather more authoritarian, dogmatic. As I read, I was overcome with the sense that I seeing an unconscious (perhaps) authorial expression of current trends in European culture, demographics and society. The parallels between Beszel/Old Europe and Ul Qoma/Islamic Europe seem to me to be obvious and undeniable. I wondered, what is it like for a person in our politically correct age to live in a country that is undergoing the types of radical cultural changes that Europe is experiencing, and not be able to discuss it openly and frankly? To have to "unsee" that which is going on right before your very eyes?
Perhaps THE CITY & THE CITY is the logical result of that kind of social and political stress on the mind. And, if I am correct, that is what makes it so brilliant....more info
- Wiggly Double-meant Glum
You have to look at this story from two vantage points. I'll try to describe it for you without giving too much away while keeping myself out of trouble. (The Breach may be looking over my shoulder.)
If you can see and unsee, there is a city that's two (or is it two cities that are one?). There are people in each of the two who know the rules; but we visitors might find it easy to run afoul of the restrictions.
These two cities occupy the same ground and interlock like a jigsaw puzzle. Of course, there may actually be more than these Two, but I wouldn't want to be the one to mention it. (Will weasel words protect me enough? Hope so.)
I can safely state that there has been a murder. The body could be seen in one city and unseen in the other. But where was the murder done - and who could have committed or uncommitted it?
Our main guy, Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad, is on the case - at least that part he can see. But will he go to where he normally unsees to see more than he can see from where he is?
Confused? Good! Part of solving the mystery is for you to become unconfused.
There is no doubt, though, that Mieville has written something special. I wanted to give it five stars for each of the cities, but alas, it wasn't allowed. First - he knows how to tell a story. Second - he knows how to write a mystery. Third - he knows the secret to telling the reader only what is needed and only when it is needed. Fourth - he doesn't bog the story down with extraneous characters and descriptions.
This is not an action packed thriller with gunfights on every page and obligatory sex. Instead, the events unfold methodically and progress is based on brain-power rather than fire-power. It is very noirish in style and continues to build in complexity. Inspector Borlu is very human. He makes mistakes, learns from them, discards bad ideas and uses his head to build on what he knows. In time, enough is revealed for the story to have an actually ending - at least as far as we can see (unsee?).
This is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time. I don't care about restrictions when I say that I sincerely hope we are allowed to go once more into the Breech....more info
- Incredibly Realized Setting
I have awarded five stars to lesser books in the past, but now the bar has been raised; I know what a five-star novel is really like after reading _The City & The City_.
It's a detective novel written in the first-person; the narrator is Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad. The writing style is relatively spare, reminescent of Dashiell Hammett. The narrator constrains himself strictly to observable phenomena and tells us nothing of characters' inner thoughts or emotional states, which makes the action seem very immediate and the narration very stark. Police procedures are presented believably but without too much detail. The case itself is not terribly elaborate. It starts with a murder, but about two-thirds of the way through I felt that the murder was no longer the focus. Inspector Borlu's investigation leads to fringe political groups, an archaeological site, a foreign country, and to somewhere else entirely. The setting of the novel is what makes the story work. There wouldn't be a story if it wasn't set in Beszel and Ul Qoma. It's a totally original concept, like nothing I have ever read before.
Beszel is a gloomy, decaying city which seems to be located somewhere in Eastern Europe. Ul Qoma is a bright, bustling city that seems either Arabic or Turkish. The relationship between the two cities is the central theme of the book. I can't tell you much about it without spoiling the beautiful unfolding of the novel. Of course Inspector Borlu takes everything for granted because he lives there; it's all familiar to him .. so instead of explaining things as one would to a foreign visitor, he lets details emerge through descriptions of sights and events, and the reader slowly pieces together details of the setting. One's understanding of the situation gets deeper as the novel progresses, and even though it is completely absurd, I found myself easily suspending my disbelief and becoming totally absorbed in the story. This impossible setting is PERFECTLY executed so as to seem plausible. Beszel and Ul Qoma deserve to be included in the Atlas of Fictional Places, they are so well constructed. Even the languages (as reflected in names of people and places and a few idiomatic sayings) consistently support the mood and "flavor" of the two cities.
The two cities may be a clever metaphor for the Situation of Man, but the book's highbrow literary qualities will not get in the way of its pure entertainment value. The best fiction I have read so far this year....more info
- Mind-stretching mix of crime and SF/Fantasy
It looks like a straightforward enough case--a woman's body is discovered, victim of an apparent murder. But the more Inspector Tyador Borlu investigates, the less he's satisfied with the easy answer--that she was a streetwalker who ran into the wrong client. Still, without a clue, without even the woman's identity, Borlu seems stuck. He's even more stuck when he gets a break--a call from someone who sees one of his posters--in a city where that poster must be unseen. If Borlu acts on this information, he puts himself and the case at risk.
Borlu's investigation takes him from his native city of Beszel to its twin city of Ul Qoma. He's certain that the murder involves both cities--that there is Breach. Yet, he cannot prove it--and evidence emerges that someone went to a lot of trouble to avoid breach.
As Borlu investigates, he learns that the victim was a student who once got into trouble for arguing that a mythical third city, Orciny, exists in the gaps between the cities--areas where no-one from either city goes because they believe those areas belong to the other. This mysterious third city, according to fairy tale, controls everything going on in the two evident cities, yet itself remains at the background. Certainly the archeological excavations taking place under Ul Qoma (sadly, most artifacts are under Ul Qoma rather than Beszel sections) points to something in history that is weird, that doesn't make sense.
Author China Mieville creates a world that seems just like our everyday Earth, but with a strange double city somewhere in Eastern Europe. Beszel and Ul Qoma exist not just side-by-side but interspersed. From the time they're children, residents of the two cities are trained to 'un-see,' and 'un-sense' people, vehicles, and buildings from the other city even as they share space with them and attempt to avoid getting run over by fast-moving but unseen vehicles. This separation of geographically united cities is ruthlessly enforced by Breach--an shadowy organization that obeys no apparent rules and holds ultimate power whenever someone, whether advertently or not, steps across the line from one city to the other.
I've enjoyed all of the China Mieville stories I've read so far, finding them powerful, if flawed creations. In THE CITY & THE CITY, Mieville transcends himself, creating something wonderful, powerful, and new. I am happy to recommend THE CITY & THE CITY to anyone willing to stretch their minds.
- Police procedural with a fascinating twist
China Mi¨¦ville's novel, "The City and the City," is a police procedural built upon an intriguing premise. Somewhere in Europe are two cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma. These cities are more than just neighbors; they in fact share some of the same physical space. It is perfectly possible for a person from Beszel to live next door to a citizen of Ul Qoma. What makes this a difficult situation is that the two cities have separate languages and cultures, and it is in fact a crime to pass from one city to the other without express permission to do so. Children are taught from a young age not to see the people and buildings of the other city. This concept is called "unseeing." Visual cues, such as the architecture of the buildings and even the color of the clothing people wear, are used to determine which city one is in. Failing to unsee can result in "breach," and if one breaches blatantly enough, a shadowy, much feared organization, also known as "Breach" will descend upon that soul unlucky enough to be caught seeing what he shouldn't.
The action starts in Beszel with the discovery of the body of a young woman. Inspector Borlu is assigned to the case, but his attempts to solve the crime are considerably complicated when he discovers the young woman was a citizen of Ul Qoma. Ultimately, Borlu is sent to Ul Qoma to work with a detective on the police force there. Together they must solve the mystery behind the young woman's death.
Mi¨¦ville has created a complex, fully-realized world, even creating his own vocabulary to add to the "realness" of the novel. "The City and the City" is not only a great read, it's thought-provoking as well.
- Another gem from a remarkable talent
First off, I want to acknowledge that China Mieville is, by his own admission, "paranoid" about spoilers, and given the admiration I have for him as an author I am going to do everything I can to respect that and keep details to the bare minimum. That said, it is impossible to write a review without offering at least an outline of the plot, so if you want to read this quite remarkable novel with no preconceptions (and I can't say that is a bad idea) stop reading now.
With that bit of boilerplate out of the way, I can say without hesitation that this is Mieville's most accomplished work to date. This is true when considering "The City and The City" solely on its own merits, but especially in consideration of the incredible shift in tone, content and style that the author undertook in writing this novel. Mieville, has said on a number of occasions that he would like to write a novel in every style there is (having already written a quest story in "The Scar" and a Western in "Iron Council"), and while this may sound like gimmick he actually embraces it as a literary experiment which, to date, has proven remarkably successful. In the case of "The City and The City" he has written a noir crime thriller with a touch of fantasy.
Gone is the languid (and I say that as a compliment) prose of the Bas-Lag novels, replaced with a spare, gritty realism that offers a pitch perfect tone for the novel. Moreover, through the use of first person narration via the main character Inspector Borlu, Mieville creates his most robust and interesting character yet. And as always, a city, or in this case cities, (sort of) looms large in the narrative. In fact, I would argue that there is no author writing today who embraces the urban more than Mieville. From his underground London in "King Rat" to New Crobuzon and Armada in the Bas-Lag novels, and most recently his inverted London in "Un Lun Dun" he shows a deep understanding of how our urban environments shape us as individuals, our relationships and societies as a whole.
Which brings me to a point I can no longer dance around, the central conceit of the book, the nature of the twin cities of Beszel and Ul-Qoma (stop reading if you are avoiding spoilers). Sitting on the edge of Eastern Europe these (seemingly) city-states occupy the same topographic space (i.e. same longitude and latitude) but operate as largely discrete and fully independent entities. However, in some places they overlap, and in those areas in it is the gravest of crimes to interact with or even acknowledge denizens of the other city.
Hence, when a crime cuts across these boundaries it is as delicate as any international negotiation, and a seemingly mundane murder pulls Inspector Borlu into a maze of shifting political and economic agendas, sees him fighting against the weight of history and directly at odds with the mysterious Breech which polices the boundaries between the two states. As moves deeper and deeper into the case, Mieville displays a remarkable gift for back-story, revealing tantalizing glimpses into a much larger world, and constantly keeps the reader off guard with a host of unreliable characters, each with their own shifting agendas.
"The City and The City" is a radical departure from the Bas-Lag novels, and if you strictly a a fantasy fan, this may not be the book for you. However, if you are looking for a nuanced literary-thriller that blurs the boundaries between genres, creating something new while in no way detracting from its inspirations, "The City and The City" should be the first book of the summer season for you.
- original and brilliant premise adds to a strong mystery
It's just about impossible to discuss China Mieville's new book, The City and the City, without discussing the premise at its center. I personally don't consider this much of a spoiler, as the reader is pretty fully confronted with the premise about 20-30 pages in, but it is led into with hints here and there so before hitting the premise--I'll offer a very short summation of a recommendation, followed by some spoiler space/asterisks, then the full discussion
Despite the title's promise of more urban New Weird fantasy along the lines of Perdido Station, anyone coming to The City and The City expecting more Bas-Lag fantastical settings and inhabitants, or the wild abundance of imagination that was the city in Un-Lun-Dun will find all that stripped away. The same for those looking for Mieville's sometimes-baroque style or mini-treatises on economics/socialism. The City and the City tweaks reality in a tiny, almost singular fashion and runs with the effect of the small tweaking. It's a laser beam fantasy, not a Vegas show of neon. It's more noir police procedural than fantasy, although the fantastical element is essential. So a concise non-spoiler summary goes like this: the police procedural part is compelling, filled with murder, red herrings, conspiracy theories, good cops fighting red tape, mysterious figures, pawns, buddy cops, chase scenes. The main character (it's told from first person), a somewhat worn down cop, has a nice world-weary sense of justice to him and is drawn relatively fully, though I thought his character could have been a bit sharper. Secondary characters in general were a bit sketchy. The plot moves along at a strong pace throughout with very few slow spots and it does what this form should--becomes more tense and gripping the closer one gets to the end. The language is wonderful throughout: true-sounding dialogue, vivid descriptions, thoughtful metaphors. In short--read the book. OK, some stars and space for a few lines then a more full discussion of the premise.
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The book is set in two cities that share the same geographic location at a vague edge-of-Europe area. The two cites are Beszel--an old Eastern Europe sort of city with a whiff of decay about it--and Ul Qoma, a more modern type city on the rise. When I say they "share", I don't mean they are neighbors, nor are they like the twin cities. They sit basically atop each other, intertwined with one another, weaving in and out of each other, sometimes wholly separate and sometimes overlapping. There are sections that are wholly Beszel, sections that are wholly Ul Qoma, and sections that "crosshatch". Again, those, those sections that are separate are not necessarily like two boroughs or suburbs--it may be two houses next to each other, the separation can be a matter of feet or even inches, not miles.
What keeps the cities separate is not physicality but the mental processes of each city's inhabitants: as they walk around, drive the shared streets, they see only those in their city and "unsee" those in the other--hey do not acknowledge their presence, do not speak to them, wave to them, do not "see" them. They see only those elements of their own city they've trained themselves to focus on, the dress and movement of the people, the architecture, the smells.
To acknowledge the other city's residents, to talk to or touch one, accidentally crash a car into a "foreign" car, is a "Breach", a crime that is swiftly and often harshly dealt with by mysterious agents of Breach who appear as if out of nowhere and who are always watching for such crimes (children are given dispensation as they learn to see and unsee while growing up, while tourists--there are not many--are given two-week crash courses in "unseeing").
The book opens with Tyador Borlu, Extreme Crime Squad Inspector of Beszel, called to the scene of a murder. The murder, as they often are in these stories, is only part of something larger and soon Borlu is dealing with a possible Breach and then ends up having to "travel" to Ul Qomo and work with a partner there to pursue his investigation.
I found the premise both utter genius and utterly unbelievable. Those who can set aside going "wait, people would never actually act this way" will find the way the premise colors the events of the book and lingers in one's mind afterward absolutely brilliant and thought-provoking. Those who can't do that will probably toss the book down about 50 pages in or so.
I have to say, the premise bothered me throughout. It wasn't one of those things I could suspend at the start and then move on from, as in "OK, animals are talking. Not realistic but I'll go with it". I never stopped having an initial pulling away each time it was highlighted. I think part of the reason for that is the book is so mundane otherwise, so I'm being asked to believe regular people in our regular world would act this way. But, while it bothered me repeatedly, as in making itself noticed, I could always submerge my instant rejection because of what it did for the book.
Mieville is working with a lot with this concept and I'm not going to delve much into my thoughts because, well, they should be your own. But I felt the premise allowed/forced the reader to question our ways of seeing, how and what we choose to look at and look away from, of our motivations for doing so, how we separate and group ourselves, the ways in which we are always being "watched" and what effect that has on us, how we define culture and nation, how we can and cannot control our thoughts and language, ohow and whether we doubt our own perceptions, how we monitor ourselves constantly and pretend or edit or "unsee"/"unthink"
It also added to the plot from a more mundane sense and gave a thoroughly original chase scene. But what the premise did best was take a standard police procedural and turn it into a "big book"--one full of ideas, deep ideas, thoughtful ideas. It makes the book not simply compelling or interesting or entertaining but thought-provoking. So I say again, read this book....more info
- fantastic police procedural parable
The corpse was found near a skating rink ramp in somewhat seedy Beszell. All the curious spectators knew she was murdered just by looking at the award angles of her body. Extreme Crime Inspector Tyador Borlu leads the investigation that he assumes is a simple homicide.
He soon learns the victim is Mahalia Geary, which makes him reconsider the simplicity of her murder. She was the leading proponent of a theory that a third unseen city she called Orciny co-exists in the same physical space as that of Beszell and affluent Ul-Oomaof. Her belief and that of her supporters was this other locale filled the vacant blind spots between the co-located "twin" cities. As Geary's cohorts mysteriously begin to vanish, Borlu reexamines Geary's theory because increasingly the evidence points towards a third party conspiracy cleverly manipulating the biases of the two known urban centers.
THE CITY AND THE CITY is a fantastic police procedural parable as brilliant fantasist China Mieville makes a strong case as to how far groups will go to keep the comfort zone of their social order. The story line is fast-paced with the audience accepting the existence of two "cities" intermingled but separate; sort of like the Bronx in the 1970s where a bus line would go from the burned out slums of the south to the affluent estates of the north. Readers will appreciate this hyperbole as maintaining the illusion of belonging is more critical than economic and social realities. A tale of two cities and perhaps a third too, this is a great whodunit that will have readers pondering what psychological devices we employ to "protect" our places in society.
- Breathtaking--no spoiler review!
Reading this is like watching an actor, half-remembered from music videos and David Lynch, unexpectedly crafting a nuanced performance in the Russian film masterpiece, "Solaris"; it's as if this were written by another author entirely. But then, maybe Mieville's other works were 'just acting'.
If you are a fan of other works by Mieville, be warned--this is less the florid, baroque prose of, "Perdido Station" and, "Iron Council", and much more the creation of a slightly psychotic, emotionally detached crime novelist. Specifically, "City" reminds me of Swedish author, Stieg Larssen--the writing is icy; also, there's definitely a nod or three to Dostoevsky, though Dostoevsky is warmer by far.
Whether or not you are new to Mieville's works, know that this is a creepy, creepy masterpiece. I can't say more without spoiling it.
- Excellent Murder Mystery in a Netherworld
China Mieville is one of the more clever writers in any genre. In The City and the City he as written a murder mystery, but one in a place like no other. The cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma reside in the same temporal space connected by crosshatches. And in-between is a shadowy nowhere, the Breach. The boundaries of the two cities are strictly enforced, mostly, so the citizens of each city have learned to "unsee" the other city to avoid entering the wrong temporal space that would put them in Breach. Being in Breach is a bad thing. It can make you disappear. Sound confusing? That's okay. You'll get used to it once you've inhabited the cities for a time.
Within these cities, well, Beszel is where it starts, a horrific murder of a young woman takes place and we are introduced to our interlocutor, detective Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad. Borlu's search for the mysterious killer takes us across the cities, across unseen boundaries, in what is in the end, a rather intricate but not atypical murder mystery. As it turns out, the murder takes place in Ul Qoma but the body winds up in a desolate area of Beszel. This makes the murder even more mysterious as it's not easy to pass through the cities without breaching.
Borlu's investigation becomes a political hot potato and takes him to the shadowy underworlds of fringe political groups like the "unifs" who want to unify the two cities, to the True Citizens, who are ultra-nationalists wanting power for their particular city. It also takes him to Ul Qoma where the murdered young lady last resided, working on a doctorate at an archeological dig that predates the splitting of the cities. It turns out she was into some rather strange beliefs herself, one of which was there is yet a third and all powerful city, Orciny, occupying this same temporal zone. That put her in hot water with a lot of fringe political groups so she had plenty of enemies and the suspects abound. And it introduces us to a mystery within a mystery. Does Orciny really exist, or is it just an urban legend? And what might the murdered young lady's search for Orciny have to do with her violent demise? I guess we'll have to find that out too.
Borlu is a dedicated detective and wants justice for the murdered young woman so he works tirelessly to that end doing what most detectives do - poking his nose all over the place until some type of pattern or answers emerge. And slowly they do emerge and they get very weird indeed. As simply a very good mystery story, this novel works extremely well. Its setting and complexity make it superb.
- This book broke my head...
... and it's going to take a while to get it back on straight again!
The construct of "The City & The City" is one of the strangest concepts I have ever come across, and I read a lot of pretty strange stuff. This really stretched my mind out of shape.
Two cities, overlapping in space. Some areas totally in one city or the other. Some areas in both. And some... maybe in neither? And an "area? Can be as large as a building, or as small as a single tree.
Citizens of both cities trained from childhood to "unsee" things and people from the other city... to "unhear" sounds from across a border that is right next to them... to "unsmell" the food in a restaurant that is nearby, but also a miles away.
And between the City and the City, a mysterious force called Breach, empowered to maintain the separation and to deal with those who violate it.
Now, a murder has been committed. Someone has apparently been killed in one city, their body dumped in the other. Which city was the crime committed in? Or was it in both? Or neither? The detective assigned to this case has to figure this out, to follow leads in both cities, to take actions that are of questionable legality in both cities, and that may even invoke Breach.
Mieville has written an incredible cop story. If you're familiar with his previous novels, be prepared for something entirely different. But it will take you to places just as alien and wonderful.
The spell of words Meiville weaves is so powerful that it's jarring when there is a reference to an author that you recognize, who has written a book set in the cities. Because it reminds you that the story in fact *does* take place in our world, in our time. Except that in this one small corner of the world, things are different. Very different.
The ideal of overlapping or parallel worlds that people can travel between is certainly not new. But it has never been done this way before. When I read Mieville's "Perdido Street Station", he brought me to an incredible new world. In "The City & The City" he introduced me to another one. Right next to where I live.