06 October 2012

The City and the City, by China Mieville

Reflecting recently, I realized that the most popular genres of fiction (ones that reliably populate best seller lists) are mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, historical novels, and romance. And that those are the very the genres that I tend not to like very much. There are exceptions, of course, but I often find that the formula behind those genres is a little bit too visible to me. I am a lot more sensitive to the scaffolding behind the story, and a lot more irritated by it. In sci-fi novels, for instance, the endless exposition grates at me. In mysteries, the controlling way the author doles out information and/or actively misleads me gets on my nerves. I say all this in order to explain my skepticism about The City and the City, and why I liked it less than a lot of other people did or would. A mystery novel set in a strange place where two cities basically exist in the same place but the people in each must "unsee" the other is just not really my cup of tea. The made up names (many vaguely Hungarian) irritated me, as did the occasional references to our world, daring you to try and place the cities in space and time relative to our reality, or the scant allusions to the early history of the place, which in no way explained what happened.

But I did like it. It's a well-written, absorbing read. The language is vivid and rarely stoops to crime cliché. The premise of the two cities is a creative one, and it's executed quite well. I started slow, but once I got about halfway in, I finished the book in two long, breathless sittings.

Did I love it? No. But it was an enjoyable read. And there's a distinct pleasure, to me, in reading a book that has been recommended to me by good friends, and read by lots of people I know. It makes you feel more connected somehow.

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