Benjamin Solah's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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Sep 07, 10

Read from July 06 to September 06, 2010

The City and The City is definitely the most amazing novel I’ve read this year but that sounds a bit grandiose because I haven’t read much this year. Anyhow, it blew me away with how rich it was and the message lying underneath.

China Miéville seems to take on a new genre with each novel, excluding the trilogy which is the same genre. The City and The City takes on the hard-boiled crime genre all within this rich and incredibly deep world of the fantastic, where two cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, exist in the same space.

The first thing that strikes you is how much detail Miéville has put into the world; the history behind it, the mechanics of how exactly two cities exist on top of each other and the variations between the two. The descriptions of the buildings are amazing and I could put myself in Beszel and Ul Qoma. It was like the cities were characters in and of themselves.

The mechanics of the two cities work so that if someone from Beszel is walking down the street and walks passed someone in Ul Qoma, sometimes on the same street, they aren’t allowed to see each other or interact with each other. If they do, they must ‘unsee’ before Breach, a body that oversees the borders, steps in.

The crime begins around this idea. A young Canadian student studying archaeology is found murdered and it is believed the killer may have breached in the process.

The investigation takes us into the world of Nationalists and Unificationists, political groups either fighting for one or other city, or with the ‘Unifs,’ the eventual unification between the two cities. I found all of this fascinating with Miéville most probably drawing on his own knowledge of political groupings.

This may be a bit of a pedantic point but I was conscious that as a socialist, I was reading a novel by another socialist from the point-of-view of a police officer. But despite knowing that socialists are against the police, I did not see a problem with this. Miéville has entered into the genre and has to be respectful of its boundaries, but also, he mentioned in his interview that you don’t have to agree with everything your main character does.

The character of Tyador Borlú, the investigator is a sympathetic character at times with a kind of liberal bend on crime fighting. There’s also a healthy disdain for much more unpleasant characters like the Nationalists that makes it easier to side with him.

The other thing about it being a crime novel is it very much written in that style whilst still merging with his own slant on description and prose. I found it easy to read and the story progressed smoothly.

The City and The City is essentially about borders. It’s a very strong metaphor and Miéville was at pains last year when it came out, to deny all of the assumptions of what the novel was about like Israel/Palestine or Berlin. That would be a very lazy interpretation and there is even a nod to this when Borlú mentions going to a conference on duel-city crime fighting alongside police from these places where he makes the comment that they just don’t get it.

The metaphor runs much deeper than that and whilst trying not to spoil it for you, it brings borders to their extreme conclusion, talking about the arbitrariness of borders and how they force people apart who are much closer than they realise. And this metaphor is something that runs through the life of the novel, it is essential to the story, not something laying on top or shoved in your face.

The City and The City is an amazing novel that plays with your head at times whilst fascinating you with the world and how vividly it is described. It comes highly recommended.

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07/12/2010 page 59
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