The City & The City
Two cities existing topographically on top of each other. Crazy! And yet, only crazy in theory. Because really, don’t we live that way anyway? Aren’t we a fractured society that refuses to see people around us unless they dress and speak as we do?
Inspector Tyador Borlú, of the Extreme Crime Squad in the European city-state of Besźel, investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student found dead with her face disfigured in a Besźel street. He soon learns that Geary had been involved in the political and cultural turmoil involving Besźel and its twin city of Ul Qoma. His investigations start in his home city of Besźel, lead him to Ul Qoma to assist the Ul Qoman police in their work, and eventually result in an examination of the legend of Orciny, a rumoured third city existing in the spaces between Besźel and Ul Qoma. [from the wikipedia page]
The premise doesn’t even begin to touch on the brilliance and delicate nature of the societies that Miéville introduces his reader to. Once again, Miéville only gives his reader the most basic of introductions to this world (of twin cities). He expects you to use your brain and live in his world.
What really grabbed me about this book though was the subtle and yet obvious way in which Miéville comments on the true nature of our behaviour when it comes to the people we share this world with. And of course, leave it to a sci-fi/weird fiction writer to bring it to light in such an ingenious and captivating way. Now, I thought I may have been reading too much into the book, but then I came across this from Andrew McKie who reviewed the book for The Spectator who suggested:
the hallucinatory aspects of the book owe more to Borges, or perhaps Les Gommes, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s subversion of the policier. Most impressively, Miéville’s underlying point, that all city-dwellers collude in ignoring real aspects of the cities in which they live — the homeless, political structures, the commercial world or the stuff that’s ‘for the tourists’ — is never laboured.
So, I wasn’t as far out as I thought. If you haven’t read any Miéville yet, this one is easier to get into because of the natural-ness of the world the characters inhabit and because it’s not as obviously weird as his other novels.
“You cannot train yourself to successfully and sustainedly unsee and unhear — you do them all the time, but they also fail, repeatedly, and you cheat, repeatedly, in all sorts of small ways. The book mentions that several times. It is absolutely about absolute fidelity to those particular urban protocols, exaggerations or extrapolations of the ones that I think are all around us all the time in the real world; but it’s also about cheating them, and failing them, and playing a little fast and loose, which I think is an inextricable part of such norms.” [from goodreads.com]