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lunababymoonchild

The City and The City

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I was shocked to find out that it's been nearly three years since I read this novel.  It's still having an impact.

 

China's prose is unique and wonderful but difficult to categorise.  This matters not to me except when I'm posting a review, so since Perdido Street Station is reviewed here I thought that I'd keep them both together but that's not to say that The City and The City is anything at all like Perdido Street Station, far from it.  Nor, I'd venture, is it in the same category.

 

Since this is totally unique it's difficult to describe.  It is a murder mystery, although the setting and the characters are all totally original and nothing I've ever encountered before.  So reading this book is a total experience.  Not only is the reader encountering a murder mystery but an entirely different world of China's making.  It's so well written, imho, that it was easy for me to become totally immersed in his world, alien although it is, with ease.  I did struggle with the constant swearing in the dialogue that he wrote and decided for myself that said swearing wasn't necessary but it did occur and it didn't put me off reading the book. Nor has it put me off reading any of his other work.

 

It's difficult for me to say any more about this book, and I am aware that this is a somewhat vague review.  There is just nothing that The City and The City can be compared to.  How can you tell if you'll like it?  As far as I can see you'd need to read a sample of it or borrow it from  the library.  I jumped straight in following a recommendation from Grammath and did not regret it one iota.

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Guest AvidReader

how much swearing and what level of obscenity? I don't mind some but as you say 'constant' 4 letter language leaves me a bit cold.

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how much swearing and what level of obscenity? I don't mind some but as you say 'constant' 4 letter language leaves me a bit cold.

As far as I recall there is swearing only in the dialogue. It doesn't swamp the whole book. And there is no obscenity. I'm absolutely certain that we had a thread on this when I read the book and I recall that I was the only one who commented on the swearing Edited by lunababymoonchild

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Guest AvidReader

hmm well I'm not sure why being out of the dialogue would make any difference to it being there. I'm not a fan of it as I feel it seldom adds anything to a story. There are so many other adjectives to discover. 

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hmm well I'm not sure why being out of the dialogue would make any difference to it being there. I'm not a fan of it as I feel it seldom adds anything to a story. There are so many other adjectives to discover. 

 

I think so too but it's there and I thought I would mention it.  I wouldn't let it put you off the whole book though.

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It looks like my original review of this very fine novel must have been lost in last year's site crash, so here it is again for your edification... 

Tyador Borlu is an Inspector with the Extreme Crimes Squad in the rundown city of Beszel, possibly somewhere in post-Soviet eastern Europe. He is called upon to investigate the murder of a female student.
 
Beszel is, however, no ordinary city. It co-exists in the same physical space as the wealthier Ul Qoma. However, the citizens of each city are trained from an early age to "unsee" manifestations of the other, to erase it from their minds. In some areas, the barriers between the two cities is "cross-hatched" and weak and it is here that citizens are at risk of unauthorised crossings or breaches, as they are known.
 
As Borlu and sidekick Corwi investigate, it seems the student has been working on both sides of the border on an archaelogical dig and her theories, along with those of her mentor Professor David Bowden, have also attracted the interest of nationalist and unificationist politicians on the Oversight Committee which governs relations between the cities. As the case becomes increasingly sensitive and complex, Borlu is teamed up with an Ul Qoman detective, Qusim Dhatt, to continue the investigation.
 
The divide is policed by a force simply known as Breach, which citizens of both cities live in fear of since those who make unauthorized crossings have a tendency to disappear.
 
The student, Mahalia Geary, and Bowden have posited a theory that Breach is part of a third city, Orciny, often dismissed as a myth. But is there something to their ideas, and is Mahalia's death and the disappearance of fellow student Yolanda Rodriguez connected to it? To solve the murder, might Borlu have to put himself at the mercy of Breach?
 
Mieville skillfully combines the tropes of a police procedural novel with his extraordinary, surreal creation. Unlike the cliched sword and sorcery fantasy writers who invoke the rural and the medieval in their worlds, Mielville's work is fiercely urban both here and in his other novels making him, to my mind, a much more interesting writer than George R.R. Martin and his ilk.
 
There is more to Mieville's creation, however, than simply fantastical story telling. The author is a committed socialist and often uses his fiction to make political points. Here, the message is about how easy we find it to ignore the ills of our societies in the same way as the two cities are trained to ignore one another.
 
This is certainly a fantastic novel in one sense of the word, and its sheer inventiveness and the force of its central conceit are undeniable and I was drawn into this richly imagined world. I guess how much you like this novel (and I liked it very much) will depend on how much you can buy into it.
 
The City and the City did have some flaws to my mind. Borlu is not a reflective man and we get little insight into how the denizens of the two cities feel about the strange arrangement in which they live; more might have been interesting although perhaps would not have moved the story along. The thriller elements could perhaps be tighter too. These are quibbles really, though. This is a good novel but I liked the two others of his I've read Perdido Street Station and his criminally underrated debut King Rat more.
 
Mieville belongs to a distinguished tradition; Wells, Peake, Dick, Kafka, Orwell, Atwood, Borges and Ballard are obvious influences and I believe he is worthy of mention in the same breath. If there was more sci-fi/fantasy writing like this around then perhaps the genre would not be so maligned.

 

 

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As regards any bad language in The City and the City (and this is my general thought on swearing in literature) I thought the use of 4 letter words was appropriate. Those characters who were the type of people you might expect to swear swore in the places in their dialogue where you might expect them to swear, but not excessively. This is exactly as it should be.

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It looks like my original review of this very fine novel must have been lost in last year's site crash, so here it is again for your edification...

Thank you for finding your review Gram, it gives me more pointers of what to look out for and think about. I am about three quarters through, enjoying it very much indeed and puzzling over Breach.  I hesitated to comment and disclose the concept of the two cities, but I am glad you have, as it is such an incredible feat of imagination and worth discussing more. I keep trying to transpose it in my mind to a city the size of Belgrade or Bucharest and wondering how you could ever possibly learn and become so accustomed to unseeing. 

 

Luna,  I tried to multi quote part of your review but it is not working for me.  Thank you for starting the thread and giving your comment. I completely agree that the prose is wonderful and his description of this strange city and the weird interaction of the inhabitants is excellent, that this is indeed a unique book and hard to describe, but you and Gram gave me the original impetus to start and I am so glad.  Definitely look forward to reading more of this author..

 

Edited by grasshopper

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It looks like my original review of this very fine novel must have been lost in last year's site crash, so here it is again for your edification... 

 

 

 

Yes, thank you very much for bothering to post your review again for us Gram, much appreciated.  I was sure that we'd discussed this before.

 

 

Luna,  I tried to multi quote part of your review but it is not working for me.  Thank you for starting the thread and giving your comment. I completely agree that the prose is wonderful and his description of this strange city and the weird interaction of the inhabitants is excellent, that this is indeed a unique book and hard to describe, but you and Gram gave me the original impetus to start and I am so glad.  Definitely look forward to reading more of this author..

 

You are welcome, Grasshopper.

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Loved the book and most of his novels.He his at the forefront of speculative fiction imho.

Bad language "cuss/swearing" words have never been a problem for me in literature - it's, language people use and therefore should be written.Irvine Welsh comes to mind.

Edited by Clavain

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I'm a subscriber to the BBC Radio 4 books newsletter. The latest edition says they will be recording a Book Club programme with China Mieville discussing The City and the City on 3rd September at Broadcasting House in London. No indication when this might be broadcast.  

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I'm a subscriber to the BBC Radio 4 books newsletter. The latest edition says they will be recording a Book Club programme with China Mieville discussing The City and the City on 3rd September at Broadcasting House in London. No indication when this might be broadcast.  

 

That should prove interesting.  I'll look out for it (and it gives me enough time to re-read it so that it's fresh.

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Tried to read this last week and gave up after fifty pages. The murder aspect and dual cities was interesting but I didn't care enough about the characters to continue. I'll leave it and try again another time.

Edited by Tay

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Finished reading this today and I still love it.  The swearing did not bother me this time and I'm looking forward to the TV series of this.

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