Stuffed Crocodile

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Review: The City & the City

The City & the City
The City & the City by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It starts as a typical noirish murder mystery: Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Division in the Ruritanian city of Beszel is investigating a murder: a young woman has been found murdered in one of the even more derelict places in Beszel. After a few false leads his investigation soon brings him into contact with nationalists and other nutters who had in in for the victim, and it becomes apparent that the crime has roots and connections to Beszel’s sister city Ul Quoma. He has to cross the border and work with his counterparts there to make sense of this crime, which turns out to touch, but not quite breach, the sublime borders the two cities have between each other.

And this is where the problems arise: Beszel and Ul Quoma are geographically the same place.

In a weird kink of history two different cities have developed in the same place, sharing many of the same streets but not interacting at all, except as foreign, neighbouring countries. When seeing something of the other city a citizen is supposed to “unsee” it and work around.

There is a border crossing point in the middle of the city which lets people out on the same streets they were just in, but now in another country. Both cultures are different, and use different languages, culture styles, and even traffic laws.

Beszel is a derelict Eastern European nation with a more or less democratic government and some embarassing nationalists in charge, Ul Quoma is a more modern city with Turkish overtones, a prospering economy, and a military dictatorship in charge. There is some resentment on both sides. They even had some wars that were, unsurprisingly, disastrous for both sides.

Miéville manages to introduce all these things quite masterfully in a noir mode, written as if the main character was writing himself in competent but not flawless English. For the first few chapters our narrator does not even acknowledge the other city too much, and even when he does the reader can’t really be sure if this might just have been another sign of his level of skill in English. It is noticeable that after the whole nature of the cities is revealed his English improves drastically.
After a while it became clear to me that the mystery plot just is an excuse to explore the thought-experiment of two cities overlapping even further, testing out the boundaries and sounding out how far this story could be driven.
The story is well-crafted, and is used masterfully to explore the different quirks a setup like this would have, some glaring problems in the book’s internal logic notwithstanding. And it still works as a crime story/thriller.

View all my reviews

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One response to “Review: The City & the City

  1. Inunz May 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Thanks For Review The City & the City

    I Am Gamer and I like Your Blog

    Like

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