Reading The City and The City

I have finished China Mieville’s latest book, the BFSA Award nominated “The City and The City” and I loved it. The book is a tight narrative – mystery novel really – but taking place in perhaps the most challenging environment you can imagine writing or reading about. I spent much of the first half of the novel trying to determine whether something mystical was happening or if it was taking place entirely in the minds of the people that lived there. I won’t try to explain. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. China is one of the most ambitious and gifted writers that I’ve read. In the past, he’s often bitten off more than he can chew, getting lost on the way to the finale at times.

Not so with this book. It’s going to be hard for any of the other nominees to live up to this example.

However, as expected, China was up to his usual tricks. As I read, I took the liberty of highlighting words that any normal writer might edit for the sake of his reader, words that, in most cases, he could easily have written around. Some of the words I understand, but I still wouldn’t use them in a story. Here’s an abridged list.

prediscursive
caryatids
quotidian
grosstopically*
neologised
topolganger*
obsequious
tendentious
lugubrious
remonstrance
salubrious
legerdemain
byzanterie
schwa-staccatoed-sinuous
interstitiality
palimpsest
idiolect
contumely
abhistory
equipoise
boredly

I left that last one in there because it was just audacious. You’d smack a freshman writer for using the word “boredly” but here, in China’s unusually masterful hand, it’s just a choice. It’s something that he slaps down in the text intentionally because he can.

And once you get into the story, you learn to love China’s use of language like this. It’s one of his quirks, an eccentricity that gives the entire verbal landscape more character. I really can’t recommend this story highly enough.

*Including these is a little unfair because these words have no meaning outside of his novel and have a very clear and relevant meaning within the story. But still. “Grosstopic” is the word he CHOSE to put in the mouths of his characters. I think that says something about the man.

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6 Responses to Reading The City and The City

  1. sweetennui says:

    Although I normally would fall all over your recommendations, your description of his writing makes me worried that half-way through the book I would stop, put it down and realize I didn’t do well enough on the GRE to continue.

  2. Alex Gorman says:

    Dammit! More award finalists to read!

  3. Paul floyd says:

    Excellent book and worth re-reading or backtracking along the read. Thx paul f mpls,mn usa

  4. Tim Delaney says:

    Living in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I found this book to be intriguingly relevant.

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