"The City & The City"
by China Miéville
Format: Paperback, 500 pages
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Pan Macmillan
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.
From my experience with China Miéville’s works I can say that I don’t know what to expect from his novels. And I mean this in a positive way, each of his novels comes with pleasant and unexpected surprises. Therefore with an open mind and a catch of breath I opened his latest novel, “The City & The City”.
Nothing could have prepared me for experience offered by “The City & The City”, looking over the cover artwork and reading the synopsis are pale introductions of what I found between the covers of the novel. I emerged in a setting brilliantly created by the sparkling imagination of China Miéville and I loved every minute, or page, of this experience. The reader doesn’t leave the starting location, because although the novel takes place in the cities of Beszél and Ul Qoma, sometimes in between these cities, all of them share the same physical and geographical position. The result is strange and fascinating and it made me feel I was looking at an overexposed photography most of the time, its concept still haunting my mind.
The relationship between the cities and their inhabitants is complex, with a thin and, in places, crosshatched boundary that it had to be respected. The inhabitants of Beszél and Ul Qoma have to “unsee” each other and the neighboring city, with the mysterious Breach dealing with those breaking this rule, be it by mistake or intentionally. The only point where a citizen of Beszél or Ul Qoma could look over his neighbor city is Copula Hall, the frontier point between the two cities, without the Breach punishing such an event. China Miéville works masterfully on his concept further on giving each city its own identity, making me feel a difference at the cultural, social and political level, each city with its strong and weak points. More so, China Miéville makes a connection between his cities and our real world, setting a foothold in terms of international relationship between Beszél and Ul Qoma and our real countries, North American and European investments within the cities and the economic relationships resulted from this, immigration issues and bringing familiar objects and events of our everyday life, such as iPod, known movies or Harry Potter.
Because of the cities situation the murder investigation that is the main plot of “The City & The City” will have its unique and complex features. This investigation, with its potential witnesses and gathering of data must respect the same boundary between Beszél and Ul Qoma. China Miéville does an excellent job on the plot too, working on the murder case and moving it carefully and in a logical succession. Also, the author will not reveal anything until the proper time, keeping the mystery and the pleasure of my reading. Investigating the murder case is Inspector Tyador Borlú, the main character of the novel. Tyador Borlú is not an overly detailed character, but he has charisma and I ended up considering him one of my favorite characters. There aren’t many moments in which Inspector Borlú uses a gun, he certainly is not a super cop and I believe that it’s because of these reasons that I liked him so much. Another important reason for this is that Tyador Borlú reminds me a lot of the detectives from the classic movies, especially those played by Humphrey Bogart. As a matter a fact I see Inspector Tyador Borlú played by Humphrey Bogart in a movie adaptation of “The City & The City”. I know that this is not possible, but I still see it this way.
“The City & The City” is an intricate, strange and beautiful novel, one that left me wondering if China Miéville doesn’t see things that the other humans fail to see or chose to “unsee”.