The City & the City • 2009 • Fantasy novel by China Miéville

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve read and reviewed this novel in February 2015. Enjoy the unaltered text copied over from GoodReads.

I’ve read Perdido Street Station and Embassytown from Miéville. So far I’ve got mixed feelings about his literary ambitions, not every novel seems to suit my needs. What I’ve learned from this experience is to NOT read him in English but let translators do the hard work.
Foreclosing further analysis, I have to say that the German translation is an easy read in contrast to other works from the author. I could have read it in original language and it might have been better this time, because the translation changes the work’s character somewhat – it smooths swearing and rude language.

Yes, Miéville confuses the reader initially somewhat, throws him directly into some strange situation without initial explanation – this is his usual style and you only have to accept it. This time it is two nations interleaving in one city. Residents from one nation have to ignore – “unsee” – residents, buildings, cars etc. from the other nation even though they might be neighbors. They do not only unsee, but also unhear, unsmell: “Total” areas are entirely in one city, in which the observer resides; “alter” areas must be un-sensed, because they are completely in the other city. Between these are areas of “crosshatch”. Any violation against un-sensing, called a “breach”, brings up a secret police acting independently from the nations’ police.
This is the weird setting and Miéville does a marvelous job by transporting this weirdness easily and naturally to the reader without large information dumps.

The plot is centered around a police procedural investigating the murder of a female archaelogy student who was interested in some mysterious third nation. It follows main protagonist Inspector Tyador Borlú through older Beszel (I always think about East-Berlin), through transitioning center “Copula Hall” to modern Ul Qoman (West-Berlin) where he assists Ul Qoman’s inspector.

Plot is mainly driven by dialogue. That doesn’t mean that Miéville neglects the settings – all aspects of this weird city, its residents and their cultural background are brought to life. I didn’t expect the ending, Miéville resolves every thread.
There are some side-characters which are somewhat neglected, but the main protagonist Borlú is very sympathetic and his motivations are clear.

Miéville touches some philosphical questions like national identity, but doesn’t dive too deep to get lengthy or boring.

In summary, I think the novel deserved all those awards. It is a page turner with exactly the right size, and I higly recommend it.

Update from 2021:I haven’t read anything since 2015 by Mieville. Actually, this is the first blog entry for this author. It’s become quiet concerning new books or stories around him for the last couple of years.  

Meta: isfdb. It won a range of awards, the Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, Clarke, BSFA, Kitschies, Neffy, Kurd Lasswitz. 

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13 Responses to The City & the City • 2009 • Fantasy novel by China Miéville

  1. piotrek says:

    I haven’t read this one, my favourite by Miéville so far was “Railsea”, but I quite enjoyed “Kraken” and “Un Lun Dun”, even if the last one is targeted at younger audience. It takes some time to get use to his language, sure…
    I’m definitely going to read this one at some point, sounds like sth I would enjoy, I feel I might have similar opinions on the issue of national identity 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Big fan of Mieville here, but this one really confused me. I guess it works as a giant allegory, but I have trouble picturing how the setting works.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bormgans says:

    I liked this one a lot too, and I don’t think it’s the Gerlzn translator, but simply the fact that his English prose is much, much smoother than in PSS.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve also read Perdido Street Station and Embassytown, with The City & the City on my TBR. I agree not all of his works are for me. The premises are fascinating but his writing style can be a bit much. I’ll have to pick this one up sometime. (I loved The Scar – creative premise and the narrative is more straightforward than some of his other works, I think.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ola G says:

    I enjoyed this one, but not as much as Kraken or The Scar. Mieville is so hit and miss with me, though – he has some great ideas, but not all of them work, and sometimes he gets carried away by his ideas and forgets to write a coherent plot 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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