Review: The City & The City

The City & The City

The City & The City
By China Mieville
(Del Rey, Paperback, 9780345497529, April 2010, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Not your typical murder mystery.

The Rest of It:

Mieville’s writing has always intimidated me. In the past, I have tried a couple of times to read this one, only to put it right back down again. However, Care and a host of others decided via Twitter to read it together, and since they made it sound so doable, and not at all intimidating, I decided to join them.

This time around, I was not intimidated and in fact found myself marveling over the world Mieville created. This is really a murder mystery at heart, but it’s such a unique setting, that you can’t help but wonder what is going on in that mind of his.

I have to include this blurb from the publisher because describing it it too difficult:

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen.

Focus on that last line because these two cities share the same geographical space. They are differentiated by the clothes that people wear and the language that they use, but they walk alongside each other and choose to “unsee” the other. That’s right… you are walking in what is essentially a different city, yet you choose to unsee it, so therefore, it’s not there. Got it?

For the world building aspect, I give it many points but I still found myself lost at times. The vocabulary was hard to grasp and I often had to go back to re-read what I had just read. For a murder mystery, I still have yet to really understand what went down. To me, it just seemed as if the same thing was being said over and over again and that I was making little progress.

This aspect was of course, very frustrating and will probably keep me from reading any of this other books, but there was something to this one that made me want to finish it. Mainly, the respect I had for the idea itself. I felt as if I owed the author something since he constructed such an incredibly complex story for me to read.

As for the discussion, there were some Tweets along the same lines as mine (head scratching) but not much was said. Hmmm.

That said, I am glad I read it but now I am ready to move on.

Note from Ti: I also listened to this on audio in addition to reading it in print and it had the same, head scratching effect on me.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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42 thoughts on “Review: The City & The City”

  1. I haven’t read this one, but I have read Perdido Street Station, which was just amazing and so, so strange. I have Kracken on my Kindle, and want to read it sometime soon, but I just need to make some time for it. He does indeed make many complex situations in his books, and they are ones that I need to read ever so slowly. I love him a lot and think he is brilliant. Not always easy to understand, but brilliant. Loved this review, Ti, and it’s honesty. I would like to read this one!

    1. I am a tad hesitant to pick up another book by him but I do feel as if he is this untouchable, brilliant, talented guy who creates these amazing worlds for us to ponder and for that, I have great respect for him.

  2. I listened to this on audio and it was pretty complicated but I marveled at the insane creativity of the guy. I felt that it really tested my listening skills! All that being said, I’m still intimidated by him so I have yet to read another of his books.

  3. I’m a little behind on my reading of this book. I kind of skimmed your review but when I finish the book, I’ll read it more carefully. I have a lot going on right now that continues to interrupt my reading so, although I am finding time to read I have to keep putting my book doing. I hate reading that way. And this is a book I want to be able to focus on. I’m hoping this weekend I can really get into it.

    This seems to be a book that leaves most readers scratching their heads a bit! So, I’m prepared to be a little confused!

    I’m very impressed that you listened to the audio, too. Did you prefer one format over the other?

    1. I agree. This is a book that needs your full attention so put it down for now. It will be there when you get to it Hope everything is okay and that you are just busy with summer stuff and keeping the cats in check.

  4. I have had this on my shelf for some time and am a little intimidated to start it. I think I have to wait for a quiet period in my life to read it and quiet periods are hard to come by.

    1. This book needs to be the focus of your life while reading it. It’s brilliant in its construction but it’s a maze of sorts if you skip something.

  5. I also got curious by the chat on Twitter and immediately downloaded the audio version, but you got there first 🙂 Glad to know that at least it was interesting intrigued enough to keep you going.

  6. This is the only book of his that I’ve read and I agree with you that his writing style was off-putting. I also felt compelled to finish the story – I really wanted to know what happened. I liked the idea of the world but thought the mystery could have been more compelling, and I was disappointed in the solution to the mystery. I was very much hoping it would end differently.

  7. I’ve not read any China Mieville I must admit. So from reading your review, seems like his writing is quite existential and philosophical, no? It’s interesting reading your take on this one.

  8. Now that is a fabulous premise. I am pretty much intimidated by Mieville but I like the ideas that he comes up for his books. I have to try his books sometime.

  9. I found a link on The Millions to an interview with Mieville that purports to “maybe” explain this book. It might at least clear it up a bit!

  10. Ti, this book sounds AMAZING! Will definitely be reading it at some point – especially as I’ve always wanted to read something by Mieville. Loved your honesty (as always)! And I love that this author sounds a bit Murakami-ish with his writing 😉 I’m excited!

  11. I’m nearing the end of this one (finally!), but I’ve struggled throughout the book. It is confusing and he is repetitive. I hope the end it worth it, but right now I don’t think I’ll be grabbing anything else of his soon.

  12. Yes, I really wasnt’ expecting a who-done-it mystery crime novel. Not that I had ANY expectations. Still, I hope to send this to my father and see if he likes it. He reads a book a day so I have to be sure he calls me immediately to tell me his reaction or he will forget! But he likes his international crime stuff, so this should fit?

    and I DO have more to say about #sitcatc and will publish on 7/22. 🙂

  13. So not for me, most specially if you were scatching your head wondering what you had missed ! 😀

  14. I have avoided China Meiville so far because he sounded, as you said, intimidating. But I have to say, the concept of this book sounds very very promising… two cities coexisting, but unseeing each other :/
    lovely review! thank you!

  15. He wrote this for his Mum because she loved crime fiction and couldn’t deal with his usual work – but it kinda sounds like the usual China book. 🙂 I’ve had a copy for ages but never got around to it. How does it compare to Gaiman’s Neverwhere (they sound to be on similar themes)?

    1. I haven’t read Neverwhere but there was an interview I read after reading the book and the interviewer said it reminded him of Neverwhere but at the same time was a completely different book.

  16. I read it this month too and I too feel confused as to what happened. I did a lot of re-reading also because there were passages that were tough to follow because of vocabulary and structure. For me, it just didn’t feel like a thriller because everything going on distracted from the actual plot. I’m glad I’m not the only one that wasn’t in love with this.

    1. It was hard to get into. But the world building is what made me like it more than I thought I would. It’s not a book I’d recommend to a lot of people but certain readers will appreciate its style.

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