The City and The City

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The City and The City
By China Mieville

Here’s the basic premise: a murdered woman is found and a detective tries to solve the case. Sounds straight forward right? But in this book nothing is quite that simple. Yes, there is a dead body but it’s in one city and the detectives think it might have come from the second city, which shares the same location, but not the same legal or social space.

People living in the two cities, Ul Qoma and Besźel, are supposed to “unsee” the other city in their daily lives. So as they walk down the street they must not acknowledge the people and shops they see if they aren’t in their city. On top of all of that there is a legend of a city between the two cities, but no one knows if it exists or not. The more the detective looks into the murder the more coincidences he discovers and he begins to wonder if there isn’t a bigger conspiracy.

Got that? No? Yeah, that’s the problem. This book seems to be so proud of its clever concept that it never allows itself to become a good story. I do think the idea is a great one, but Mieville kept hitting me over the head with it. The old-school noir style is fun, but the language and other plot tricks make the rest of the book so convoluted that I felt like I could never just enjoy it. Imagine a Raymond Chandler book set on the moon, but with a second moon inside of it that no one is allowed to talk about, but that might be trying to kill them. That would be a bit like this.

Here’s the thing, I really struggled with this one. After the first 50 pages or so, I never wanted to pick it up, it felt like a chore. I’d read 30 pages and put it down and dread the next time I was going to read it. I felt like the author relied pretty heavily on his gimmick and that was off-putting for me.

BOTTOM LINE: Although I appreciate the clever story line, in the end it was just one of those books that I didn’t want to pick up. If you can get into the story it might work for you

A few other thoughts:

Image from here.


Ana S. said...

Aw, sorry to hear it didn't work for you! I had to put it aside shortly after starting the read-along because I haven't been able to do any reading, but I hope to get back to it sometime soon. Normally what happens to me with Miéville's books is that I have to force myself to carry on reading until I reach the moment when it all clicks, and after that I absolutely can't put them down. But of course different readers have different tastes and all that.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - I definitely understand the waiting for it to click thing. I felt like it finally clicked about 200 pages in, but at that point I think I was tired of trying to make it work. I will say this one didn't deter me from trying another of his books, because I've heard they're all so different. If you have one you'd recommend more than others let me know!

She said...

I felt somewhat the same about Mieville's Kraken. I have been wary to try him again, and I think he will probably stay one of those one book authors for me. :/

Jenners said...

I've avoided this book for fear of having the same reaction you did. I think I'll take a pass.

Red said...

"Imagine a Raymond Chandler book set on the moon, but with a second moon inside of it that no one is allowed to talk about, but that might be trying to kill them." Fantastic description. And I felt the same way as you. I liked the idea but in the end I couldn't really get into it.

Meytal Radzinski said...

I actually kind of enjoyed The City & The City, but for all the wrong reasons. I wasn't too fond of the detective/noir feel, but I did like the concept and I liked the way Mieville never fully delved into it and left it a bit... blurry. I can definitely understand why you weren't satisfied, though. It really is a weird book, and China Mieville is a weird author. And your description of Mieville just being in love with his own concepts is, I think, the most perfect description of the author I've ever read.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

She - I'm so glad you said that! Kraken was the one I was thinking of trying next, but if it's similar to this at all I don't really want to.

Jenners - I think you really have to want a trippy experience to enjoy this one.

Red - So glad I'm not alone. I kept hearing good reviews, so I stuck with it hoping it would work.

Biblibio - I'm glad you enjoyed it and that my thoughts on Mieville aren't too far off. He might be a bit too far out there for me.

Nikki Steele said...

Mievelle's ideas are always so amazingly great and sterling. When I actually get to his books, though, I'm usually unsatisfied and have even stopped reading them (something that rarely rarely happens when I read). I don't mean this to be a Mievelle bash--I just am always so frustrated by the great ideas followed with lackluster execution.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I've never read this author; always a bot intimidated.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nikki Steele - Exactly! I think I expect a bit more when I know the author is so intelligent and clever.

Diane - I was too, now I know it was with good reason.