The City & The City

China Miéville

First Sentence:   I could not see the street or much of the estate.

Beszel & Ul Qoma it could have been called, but The City and the City it is. These two cities exist somewhere on the outskirts of eastern Europe. Not only that but they exist in the same place. They are “crosshatched”. There was some sort of coming together or some sort of splitting apart, depending on your beliefs, and now the citizens of each have to completely ignore the citizens of the other (or “unsee” them). And why not? I don’t read much ‘genre fiction’ and this is a hard one to pigeon-hole though I guess Sci-Fi is as close to accurate as it’s possible to be with a novel like this. You could also call it crime, or fantasy thriller and both would be true, but it seems to me that Miéville is a writer who doesn’t want to be constrained by genres. In the book itself boundaries are all over the place and anyone who disobeys the rules will invoke the power of Breach, a major fear for most citizens. This all-encompassing power of Breach is extremely Orwellian, and  this book has been compared to Orwell and Kafka at their best. It’s enjoyable but come on, it’s not that good! It tells the story of Tyador Borlú  of the Extreme Crime Squad. When a dead body turns up in his home city of Beszel, questions are asked. Especially since the person was killed in Ul Qoma and their body was unceremoniously dumped in Beszel. Somehow, somewhere a breach must have occurred. The novel then follows Borlú on his investigation which leads him down a dark path of conspiracy theories revolving around the mythic third city of Orciny. A city which is said to exist between Beszel and Ul Qoma. I found this book to be entertaining for the most part but somewhat lacking in key areas. Tyador himself is a great creation, as are the cities he inhabits but I think the concept as a whole is incredibly vague and nothing ever really gets explained properly. Overall though it’s good. Just not that good.

* * *

Last Sentence:   I live in the interstice yes, but I live in both the city and the city.

Last Sentence explained:  By the end of the book Borlú has committed a serious breach by shooting someone on the other side of the boundary. He is promptly detained by the powers of Breach and spends his days wandering between the two cities, unseen by the citizens of either. This in between land is the mythic Orciny/Breach/third city and this is where the book ends. I told you it was vague. I wouldn’t rule out reading some of Miéville’s other work however, as I’m led to believe each book is quite different from the last. For now though this is one I can probably live without…

Random quote just because:

“[…]after a minute we’d spent without saying anything, only listening to each other’s silence and breath, like teenagers in love[…]”


2 thoughts on “The City & The City

  1. Mieville most definitely doesn’t want to be constrained by genres. He’s just stubborn like that. but how to categorize this one? maybe SF crime thriller? new weird? just plain weird?

    I’m a bit of a Mieville fangirl, so I enjoyed it for what it was, but I don’t think this is his best work. however, if you’re not into genre stuff, Mieville may just not be the author for you, and that’s totally OK. for the most part, his stuff is very, very, very weird.

    • Thanks Redhead. I did enjoy this book and I’m certainly intrigued by Mieville’s writing (not to mention his imagination). I think I probably will read more of his stuff in the future, he’s certainly not boring or predictable that’s for sure!

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