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 Author: China Miéville

Title: The City & The City

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Paperback: 500 pages

ISBN: 978-0-330-53419-2

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 06/05/2011


I have a confession to make at the outset of this review. Before reading The City & The City I had never finished a novel by China Miéville. However, I should clarify this statement. Before this book I had only tried to read Miéville once before. It was King Rat [Miéville’s debut novel]. I was sixteen at the time. And I got completely lost trying to follow what was going on.

But now that I am older, [theoretically] wiser and cleverer [although this is only a slight possibility], it seemed like the right time to return to a novelist that I have repeatedly heard great things about, but have always been slightly afraid of. So, when Miéville’s publicist gave me a copy of The City & The City, telling me that it was both a crime novel and Miéville’s “most accessible book to date”, it seemed that the literary deities were giving me a sign. But, as I’m something of an agnostic, it’s taken me over six months to get around to reading it – a decision that I am now regretting, as this is a really good book.

It is set in the amazingly realised, fictional city of Besźel [located somewhere on the edge of Europe – it is never revealed where], and begins as most crime novels do, with the discovery of a body. A young woman, found naked beneath a filthy mattress, stab wounds to her chest and a savage cut to her cheek. But, what starts out as a ‘routine’ murder case for Inspector Borlú from Besźel’s Extreme Crime Squad, soon turns into something far bigger and more deadly…

Borlú is the epitome of what a hardboiled detective should be – middle-aged, world-weary, a bit of a maverick. You can almost imagine him wearing a long trench coat! And, whilst reading the novel, I found it very reminiscent of James Elroy’s L.A. Quartet [which isn’t that surprising as Miéville mentions Raymond Chandler – the grandfather of the hardboiled detective – in the Acknowledgments section at the beginning of the novel].

But, whilst the crime procedural elements of The City & The City are incredibly well done, they are overshadowed by the scope and brilliance of the alien landscape of Besźel – which is part Blade Runner-esque futuristic landscape, part pre-unification Berlin, but still manages to be completely individual and unique.  And it is a testament to Miéville’s skills as a literary world-builder that he not only builds this fantastical and allegorical landscape, but is also able to maintain it throughout the length of the novel.

The City & The City is a weird and individual book that rather confounds the conventions of a review [I can’t really go into too much detail on the plot because [a] it would give away too much, and [b] it is so complex that trying to précis it would just end up being confusing]. But, what I can say is that it is a book built on an amazingly complex and absorbing scale. Indeed, so impressive is Miéville’s ability to blend the ‘real’ world with the strange, almost magical reality of Besźel that I truly believe that it bears comparison to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere [one of my favourite novels…ever!]. An ingenious, unconventional and page-turning read.
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