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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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The City & the City

The City and the City - China MiƩville

The City & The City: A Review in Three Parts


Part I – CSI: Beszél

I picked up The City & the City because I've been trying to explore genres lately. Here was an author, highly spoken of, whose novel was part sci-fi, part fantasy. I had high hopes.


What I found when I opened The City & the City was a novel that was neither sci-fi or fantasy, but a completely different genre: the mystery; the whodunit; the one I avoid like no other. The City & the City is the story of a crime and the officers who solve it. It is bogged down by reports and interrogations, speculations and accusations; and if that's your sort of thing, you may enjoy this novel despite the fantastic elements. Personally, I didn't enjoy this first part. There was such a small sprinkling of anything but mystery that I wondered if I'd be able to make it through. Then a miraculous thing happened: the mystery took a back seat.


Part II – Murakami's 1984

The novel's mystery stepped aside and let the story's more paranormal elements run along side-by-side. It was one part Murakami with its dual cities in the same space, its portals from one “world” into the other; and it was one part Orwell, with its “unseeing” and Big Brother-like Breach. Now, if you've been following my reviews long, you probably know I despise 1984, but that has more to do with the fact Orwell didn't write it well than the story itself, so that's irrelevant in this case. Miéville can pull it off. He builds a world that is interesting and leaves me feeling paranoid. I loved this world. And though the focus was still the mystery, and this alienated me some, I was mostly drawn in.


Part III – Chaos

In the final third of the novel, The City & the City descends into madness. Chases, gunshots, secret agents, yelling, screaming, more accusations, more gunshots, more interrogations. It was too much action too fast for my little brain to process. Throw in the jumping between the cities, Beszél and Ul Qoma, and it was difficult to know what was going on. Perhaps if I'd acquainted myself with Miéville's writing style prior to this novel I would've been able to follow it more closely, but I found The City & the City to be confusing, especially in this final act.


Coda – Game Over, Play Again?

This was the wrong choice for me to start with. It's obvious Miéville has talent in storytelling and world-building, but this was simply too much mystery and action for me. It's one I'd recommend for fans of Miéville, and possibly for open-minded mystery readers, but for the rest of us, it's probably not a great place to start. Embassytown sounds more like my speed, and next time I want to make a journey into one of Miéville's worlds, I think this is the one I'll chose.