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The City & the City
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Group Book Discussion > The City and The City by China Mieville (September 2020)

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Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Welcome to our September read: The City & the City by China Miéville.
The City & the City by China Miéville

We're reading it because in 2010 it won both the Hugo Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, but it was wildly successful that year, winning a whole host of awards that aren't yet on our list: the BSFA Award, Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and Kitschies Red Tentacle.

This is a spoiler thread, read and post at your own peril!


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Jose (pepeortiz) | 8 comments May read this one, as I bought it a long time ago. Not sure if it will be in September or not.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Glad to hear it, Jose, it'll be good to hear what you think about it!


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

Jon | 373 comments Mod
This will be a reread for me and I'm looking forward to it. The first time around I think that I understood the description of the relationship between the cities about half of the time. The rest of the time it was like 'Huh,what?'. It was like my vision was going in and out of focus. Excited to see what other people think.

Unfortunately my first read was a used book and it fell apart as I read it. I ordered a new copy three weeks ago and it still hasn't arrived. Maybe this week?


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Jon wrote: "Unfortunately my first read was a used book and it fell apart as I read it. I ordered a new copy three weeks ago and it still hasn't arrived. Maybe this week?"
Ahh, I hate it when that happens!
My copy is at the library but I'm hoping to get it this week.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
I've started now and I almost wish that I hadn't heard of the conceit of the book in advance - would I have any idea what was going on if I didn't know that it was two cities just politely ignoring each other?

I like the idea of Breach, but I haven't figured out yet just how magical they are...


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Jon wrote: "It was like my vision was going in and out of focus."
Like a Besel man trying to unsee an Ul Qoma street! :D

I'm coming up to the end now, and unless there's a big twist I don't think there's anything magical/SFnal about this book at all! Just a wonderfully weird concept!


message 8: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 373 comments Mod
Nick wrote: I'm coming up to the end now, and unless there's a big twist I don't think ..."

It sounds like you're convinced that the Breach is just in the peoples minds, but I wasn't necessarily convinced that that is the case. That's the main reason that I'm looking forward to the reread. I read it really quickly the first time and this time I plan on taking my time.

Starting this tonight, hoping to get at least 50 pages read.


Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Finished!

And yes, I think I am pretty sure that Breach wasn't magical - just a very unusual custom rigorously enforced.

I think I was expecting more from this book that I should've and now I'm left mildly disappointed. It was a perfectly solid detective novel - but I'm not really a huge mystery fan. The main characters are always so busy detecting you never really get a feel for them as people. There's no character arc. That's how I felt about this too. At the final denouement when Borlu talks the villain down and he finally surrenders - I just didn't know enough about the guy to care that he was defeated!

Maybe I missed something - but I was hoping for more surprising twists or something?

I'll think about it some more...


message 10: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 373 comments Mod
Up to page 102. Not reading as fast as I hoped.

Nick, I agree there's nothing magical so far. The cities fit together kind of like a puzzle with a few overlapping areas where the citizens have to pretend that they don't see each other while they are consciously avoiding each other. They're building up Breach as an almost magical force but I haven't met Breach yet.

Enjoying this so far. I am a mystery/detective genre fan so this works for me on a couple of levels. I'd forgotten about the third city and I don't remember how that plays into the murder.

The alphabet of Besz, Beszel's language, is similar to Cyrillic. The original alphabet of Illitan, Ul Qoma's language, was similar to Arabic and written from right to left. The frictions alluded to between the cities made me think of Yugoslavia and what happened there.

Only 100 pages in and you can see why the author has the reputation of loving the thesaurus.


message 11: by Nick (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Jon wrote: "The alphabet of Besz, Beszel's language, is similar to Cyrillic. The original alphabet of Illitan, Ul Qoma's language, was similar to Arabic and written from right to left. The frictions alluded to between the cities made me think of Yugoslavia and what happened there."
Yes, I'd be really interested to know the opinion of any Eastern European people reading this book. I wonder if Mieville managed to accurately depict it or whether they roll their eyes.

Jon wrote: "Enjoying this so far. I am a mystery/detective genre fan so this works for me on a couple of levels. I'd forgotten about the third city and I don't remember how that plays into the murder."
Let me know what you think when you get to the end. I'm not much of a mystery/crime reader and this didn't really do it for me. Was I just too obtuse to see all the clever clues that would've made it a fun puzzle?


message 12: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 373 comments Mod
Just over 200 pages. My only problem so far is the punctuation and/or some of the writing. Not sure what to blame. Sometimes it's hard to follow the conversations. Several times I've lost track of who's speaking and had to go back and try to figure it out. Not always successfully. Also the quotation mark is a single '. I've missed seeing it, mostly at the end of the speech text, and kept reading as if the character is still speaking. Then I realize a sentence or so later what has happened and I have to go back. These aren't problems I typically have when reading.


message 13: by Nick (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Hmm, I didn't have too much trouble with it, but I know what you mean. I put it down to the style being sort of terse and manly - my stereotype of detective fiction I suppose!


message 14: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 373 comments Mod
Nick wrote: "I put it down to the style being sort of terse and manly - my stereotype of detective fiction I suppose! "

Yes I definitely felt that but it went a little past that for me. Difficult to express but I just had problems at times following the action.

Nick wrote: "Was I just too obtuse to see all the clever clues that would've made it a fun puzzle? "

I don't think that there were enough clues to put together. I saw some things but that could have easily been because this was a reread for me. To be fair though I'm usually not trying too hard to solve the mystery. This time I was paying more attention to Breach. For example the way that Mahalia smuggled out the artifacts. The security guards just couldn't see it until it was pointed out to them. I found that pretty interesting as an exploration of psychology and how we perceive and see the world. Ashil told Borlu at one point that once you Breach you can't go back. Once your perspective changes in a major way you can't go back and see it the way you used to see it. Kind of like song lyrics. You hear them one way and then you learn that the lyrics are different from what you thought. Once you learn the correct words you can't imagine how you heard it the other way.


message 15: by Nick (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nick Imrie (nickimrie) | 370 comments Mod
Jon wrote: "The security guards just couldn't see it until it was pointed out to them. I found that pretty interesting as an exploration of psychology and how we perceive and see the world."

Yes, that was a very interesting part of the book. I very often don't recognise people I know when I pass them in the street because I think I do the same 'unseeing' that the people of the city and the city do - I know someone's there but I'm instinctively not interacting with them, so it was very interesting to me to imagine a whole city of people doing that.

I see reviews saying it's a metaphor for homelessness, but I think that's a bit simplistic. Our focus in the world excludes a great deal, not just the awkwardness of avoiding beggars. I remember someone who had kids saying you never notice whether there are playgrounds in a town until you start needing to pay attention to that!


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