Charlie George's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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Sep 16, 09

bookshelves: mystery, british, urban-fantasy, dystopia
Read in September, 2009

Mr. Mieville delves deeper into the mystery format, into which I considered Un Lun Dun his first foray. Obviously The City and the City is more towards the hard-boiled detective bent, whereas Un Lun Dun was nominally young-adult adventure. I love the way he mixes his genres this way. On that subject, The City and the City is also equal parts fantasy and sci-fi, though the same can be said of all China's work. He's a fusion kind of guy. I've heard he disdains the label "New Weird" even though he is pretty much the quintessential author in the category.

This book is fabulously inventive, on par with the rest of his canon, however the character development is weak and the detective-narrative limiting. Not his best work overall, but well worth reading because of the ingenious, reality-defying co-existence of two completely different cities in the same space. The most amazing part of it is that he finds a real-world way to make this work. While at first the division is perplexing and one wonders if multiple dimensions are at play, through the course of the book we slowly realize it could really work as described, if the city-dwellers believe it does. This sounds flagrantly postmodern and relativistic, but bear with me. They are trained all their lives to "un-see" the other city, reinforced by endless visual cues. If deep-seated enough, the reality experienced and sensed by those denizens could be only their own city, not the other, though in reality and from the perspective of any foreigner, the two cities are one. Bloody well fascinating and superbly executed. I only wish the story could live up to the setting.

Even the mystifying "Breach", the shadowy figures that enforce the cities' division, are explained in the end by non-magical means, which is simultaneously satisfying, exciting, and disappointing.
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Brad Your review gave me a flash of Mieville as a fantasy debunker: taking classic fantasy stories with their magic and supernatural explanations for things and offering plausible solutions from the real world. Of course, that would be a terrible waste of his talent, but it was only a fanciful flash.


Charlie George Such was indeed the case, but only for this one book, uncharacteristically for Mieville. Rational explanations are few and far between in his other weird and wonderful worlds.


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