Daniel's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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's review
Apr 22, 2011

really liked it
Read on April 22, 2011

It is some hours since I put down "The City and the City," and I find myself mulling over the ramifications of the titular cities that Mieville created and then cast in a bizarre state of fusion. I wonder, now, about everyday details that Mieville didn't go into, such as cell phone reception (wouldn't these interfere in close proximity) or parking (surely subject to a byantine set of rules). What about the upper class: do they not play with breach to flaunt their wealth? What kind of stances do politicians take on unification? Do trade unions keep secret ties with their unseen-yet-known sisters and brothers? Surely Mieville--whom I witnessed saying, "I keep vegetation charts," in answer to a question about how detailed he is about geography in the Bas Lag books--thought through every single detail regarding the reality of his fantastic idea--down to the legal complications surrounding unplanned births while visiting a counterpart city on a temporary visa.

That Mieville did not go into these details, and in fact limited those details that he did outline, is a very good thing. For "The City and the City" stands out as one of Mieville's most balanced, effective, and satisfying fictions.

In "The City and the City," Mieville shows a restraint that he has not practiced since his novella "The Tain" (another work that surpasses the rest of his repertoire). Here, he foregoes delving into any exhaustive minutia surrounding his big ideas and instead hands out textures and descriptions in small bites that allow time to appreciate their unique character. True to form, he thrusts readers into a strange place and subjects them to culture shock. What he does not do is offer a ladder of factoids to climb by and surmount this weird creature that is his child; rather, he invites you to follow the viewpoint character in his detection and take part in a complicated mystery set in a complicated setting.

This character, Inspector Tyador Borlu, is the first that Mieville has created whom I felt attached to. He is analytical, well read, and inquisitive. He is a skeptic who is willing to open his mind to the strange if no other alternative is offered. He cusses without hesitation and easily tires of overbearing authorities who like to throw their weight around. He is just and cautious, and reckless in his pursuit of justice. He is perfect for both the role of private
investigator and that of a guide for the strange landscape that Mieville has constructed. As for this strange setting: it is fantastic and wonderful, and I will be thinking about it for some time to come.

I used the adjective "effective" to describe this work because it is the first of Mieville's that left me with a heady sense of completion. Yes, the mystery is resolved, but as in many a good mystery, the thick plot is not as much the prime mover of the story as the experiences of its characters are. In this mystery, the "how" and "why" are far less interesting than the "who" and "where," and Mieville's own investigations into these two questions are mature, insightful, and very much a joy to read about.
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