The City and The City

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(337)

China Miéville, Macmillan; £17.99

China Miéville's new offering is a brave crossover from his usual "weird fiction" genre into the world of crime.

As a crime novel it works, from the gritty opening discovery of a body through to the classically jaded police inspector for which this crime becomes something more than run of the mill.

Gone are Miéville's usual array of monsters and complex other worlds. This is a novel set in the present, somewhere in Europe, although true to his roots he constructs imaginary cities with their own languages, helping to enhance the reader's feeling of displacement throughout.

We are constantly reminded that we are in the real world with a number of witty references to popular culture from the internet to David Beckham and popular music.

The two cities that are the focus of the novel - Beszel and Ul Qoma - are unique. Despite their fierce independence, they both exist in the same place at the same time - one a successful modern economy, the other decaying, both in a state of almost war with one another.

This dual existence is made possible by the fact that from birth citizens are taught how to "unsee" one another, how to exist side by side without recognising each other's existence, even when seeing each other through an area of "crosshatch".

At once although implausible and foreign, this parallel existence evokes painfully familiar reminders of the world we live in. It reminded me of South Africa and my childhood where I was brought up not to see black people as equal human beings so that I could pass the poverty and brutality on the street without questioning it.

In constructing the cities in this way Miéville captures the alienation of people from one another, bringing home the reality that the system we live under breeds division and estrangement and clouds our ability to see the often brutal and painful reality of the world we live in. Throughout the book he also reminds us how powerful yet fragile and constructed borders are.

The City and The City is a remarkable achievement - a gripping crime novel that stays true to the genre while managing a witty nod to Miéville's weird fiction roots. It is fun and engaging while serving as a chilling reminder that the world we live in is built on division and oppression and all of the horrors that can bring.