A new book from China Miéville is a cause for celebration and it's been a while since I got my last "fix" as Iron Council was published in 2005. I could not justify buying the hardback edition but was more than happy to fork out the 55p demanded by my library to reserve it in advance of release day. That's actually quite an honour in my view, as the only other item I have been willing to pay to reserve was the audio book of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book as I wanted to hear the banjo version of the Dance Macabre he'd chosen to use on it. As usual though, I digress!
Miéville is described as a "New Weird" genre author and, although I am not entirely clear what that actually means, The City & the City would probably fit into that category - although it's not set in quite the same sort of alternate world as his other books.
"When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other."
It's worth mentioning from the outset that the city of Beszel co-exists in shared physical space with the city of Ul Qoma although the inhabitants of the two cities don't officially "see" each other... Hrm. That made much more sense as a concept when Mr Miéville wrote it in his book... The acceptance and difficulties that this way of living imposes on the citizens, and visitors, is explored alongside the murder-mystery aspect of the novel and that's what's really thought provoking about this book.
Anyway - perhaps this book could be described as an "alternate reality crime thriller" where the process of investigating a murder plays out across international borders and the unique political landscape plays a large part in the complexity of the story.
This is a relatively short book (by his standards anyway) however as you are thrust straight into the heart of this world, without much in the way of explanation, it felt longer than it actually was. By this I mean that the slight sense of disorientation at the outset actually added to the sense of exploration - I had to concentrate to gather the full implication of throwaway geo-political references and it was a nice change not to be spoon fed a world. There is so much detail within the story that it's difficult to understand how it could all be packed into this brief book however credit for that achievement must go to his elegantly economical use of language.
Oh my word. I've just discovered that China Miéville was born in Norwich although he was brought up in and lives in London. I appreciate that it's a pretty tenuous link for my home city but one I am pleased to learn anyway!
Speaking of links - here's one to a video of him discussing the book!