Dan Schwent 's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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May 10, 11

bookshelves: crime-and-mystery, new-weird, the-survey-monkey-haul, 2011
Read from May 06 to 09, 2011

Tyador Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad is assigned to the murder case of an unknown woman. To find her killer, Borlu must go to the neighboring city of Ul Qoma and team with Qussim Dhatt of the Murder Squad. Can the two detectives from different cultures figure out who the victim is and why she was killed?

Wow. The core premise of The City & The City requires some explaining but I think I'm up to the task. Remember those perceptual illusions you were so enamored with when you were a kid? Like the old woman/young girl:


Okay. Instead of images of an old woman and a young girl, picture instead two cities that overlap. People from one city are trained from birth to unsee/unsense people and buildings in the other city. Still with me? Now picture a murder mystery set in one of the intersections between the two cities. Yeah, it was one mindbender of a read.

While The City & The City is firmly in the new weird genre, it's also a gritty crime story, which makes it substantially more accessible than many of Mieville's works. Tyador Borlu and Qussim Dhatt are the bickering cops that secretly grow to respect one another as they unravel a mystery than snakes back and forth between the two neighboring cities. Kind of like Jim Belushi and Arnold in Red Heat, except good.

The thing that makes The City & The City work is that the cities are quite different from one another. While Ul Qoma and Beszel aren't as detailed as New Crobuzon, they are both distinct entities. While the idea of being in one city or the other is really odd, Mieville does a good job of explaining it and making it seem plausible. How often do you actually remember what homeless people look like, for example.

The concept of the Breach is also part of the glue that holds the story together. Part police force, part bogey man, the Breach enforce the unseeing/unsensing of the other city, keeping people from going back and forth between cities with impunity.

There's not a lot else I can say without ruining key plot points. If they were to make a movie of one of China Mieville's books, this would be the one. I kept seeing Ewan MacGregor and Jason Statham as the cops. It reminds me of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles at times, Neverwhere at others, and Jeff Vandermeer's Finch at still other times. I didn't like it quite as much as Finch but it was still spectacular. For fans of both detective fiction and the new weird, it's definitely a must-read. 4.5 out of 5.
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Reading Progress

05/06/2011 page 25
8.0%
05/08/2011 page 203
60.0% "I can't wait to review this!"
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Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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Stephen I can't wait to read this. Great review!!!


message 2: by Lea (new) - added it

Lea Now I have to read this!


message 3: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus de Fish Good analogy.
It's interesting to think about the film: if Ridley Scott did it, it could be the new Bladerunner.


message 4: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Ian wrote: "Good analogy.
It's interesting to think about the film: if Ridley Scott did it, it could be the new Bladerunner."


Thanks. FYI, never type the phrase young girl old woman into google images. So disturbing!


message 5: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus de Fish I only ever type in young girl old man.


Travis Nice Review Dan! I have been wanting to pick this up for a while now... Now I need to pick it up soon!


message 7: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Thanks. I wish I wouldn't have waited so long to give it a try.


Travis This will be my first Mieville book. I also thought about Kraken for my first one... But this one has way more positive reviews.


message 9: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Travis wrote: "This will be my first Mieville book. I also thought about Kraken for my first one... But this one has way more positive reviews."

This one is easier to follow. Kraken throws a lot more at you.


message 10: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely That picture looks familiar! :)


message 11: by Kurt (new)

Kurt Reichenbaugh You sold it for me; I'm getting it.


message 12: by Jonathan (last edited May 28, 2013 12:24AM) (new)

Jonathan Peto Dan wrote: "If they were to make a movie of one of China Mieville's books, this would be the one."

But if they were to make a movie of one of David Mitchell's books, would you guess Cloud Atlas?


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus de Fish Jonathan wrote: "But if they were to make a movie of one of David Mitchell's movies, would you guess Cloud Atlas?"

Do you think the earlier Mitchells would have presented similar challenges?


message 14: by Jonathan (last edited May 28, 2013 12:25AM) (new)

Jonathan Peto I've only read two others by Mitchell (number9dream and the Jacob de Zoet) and both of them, I think, would be much less challenging, not only to film, but for audiences who had not read the books to view and enjoy. I was very surprised they took a chance with Cloud Atlas.


message 15: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus de Fish I haven't read Jacob yet, but number9dream has nine (apparently) disparate chapters, so I'd wonder how the film makers would deal with the juxtaposition. Having read Cloud Atlas twice (so I could understand it!), I thought they did a pretty good job with the film. My wife (who hadn't read the book) seemed to understand the film OK.


message 16: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto Ian wrote: "My wife (who hadn't read the book) seemed to understand the film OK."

I haven't seen the movie yet, so I can't comment. I'm impressed they pulled any of it off. At the same time, I thought I heard it did not do well, and thought maybe it must have been somewhat incomprehensible to some...


message 17: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike I finally got around to reading the book and now your review. Excellent write up. You used better and more accessible examples to explain the concept. I know that several of his other books are considered more "difficult", but this was superb.


message 18: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Thanks! I thought this one was way easier to get into than some of the others.


message 19: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Now that I just read several other reviews on GR, I find that some claim this requires knowing more of his works to truly "get it" and others think it was more easy.

I can imagine that it would being hard to follow as an audio book, but I thought it flowed very well and was skillfully built up as the story proceeded. Can't imagine a better way to do it.


message 20: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Swint This is on my list! I finished Kraken a little while ago and loved it. Your review is helpful...his novels can be quite different from one another.


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