The City and the City

Thoughts  The City and the City by China Miéville, 2010 Del Ray Trade Paperback Edition (orig 2009), 329 pages including Reader’s Guide. Winner of the 2010 Hugo Award.

FIRST SENTENCE*:  “Deep inside the town there open up, so to speak, double streets, doppelganger streets, mandacious and delusive streets.”
– Bruno Schulz, “The Cinnamon Shops” aka The Street of Crocodiles

WHY I READ THIS:  TwitterStorm resulting in ReadAlong, see my post announcement here.

What an unusual book!

WHAT’s it ABOUT: I’m going to quote the blurb which happens to be the blurb on the back cover:

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. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

And I reference this because I think it is accurate. (and better than what I could come up with.) I didn’t read this blurb before I started it and I’m not sure I read it even when I purchased the book back in April of this year. I wish I had. But I prefer to go in blind and so that is what I do.

(I am also of the opinion that the “A Conversation with China Miéville” doesn’t spoil it either if you happen to be the sort to read everything about a book before you begin a book. Even when the intro to this “A Conversation” is a READER BEWARE! I read it after and couldn’t find a thing in it that would spoil the experience.)

But perhaps it is because I was confused and mildly apathetic about the setting throughout this read. There. I said it. I am giving this three stars on its merit of its being extremely creative, on the vocabulary lesson I received, and the high praise it has and continues to receive from other readers that I respect.

I do not give it the fourth star because it lacked the necessary tension I want to feel when there is DANGER! and HIGH-RISK-of-BODILY-HARM! or something scary that might befall my beloved characters. The characters didn’t share enough of themselves for me to belove them. (That doesn’t quite sound right but it works for me, so I’m keeping it.) And I don’t give it the fifth star because I only liked it at the end and thus, the three star meaning “I liked it” is perfect.

I wish I had liked it more. I wanted to like this one more. Thus, I won’t give up on this author. I am looking forward to giving him more of my time. I have been told Embassytown might be a good second read but I also was invested in the Kraken excerpt that was included in this edition and so might be tempted to that one. Besides, I love the Kraken Black Spiced Rum commercials – which might have spoiled it for me because I didn’t know that the Kraken was a giant octopus..

Back to The City and the City. This is supposed to be a readalong with two parts but I kept reading! there was no way I could drag this one out. I had to get ‘er done. But hey!  This post is long enough – I’ll wait to explore further in a later post when we catch up with everyone else.  Next post will be July 22 which happens to be Pi Approximation Day. This is the perfect day to attempt to make a pie if you want to and never have. Because you can always say it is “APPROXIMATELY a pie”.

mendacious – not telling the truth; lying
machicolation – an opening between the corbels of a projecting parapet
encomia – glowing and warmly enthusiastic praise
nous – p.77 “Have the nous to understand” –  common sense
amphora – ancient Greek jar with large oval body, narrow neck and two handles
polysemic – multiple meanings
‘laddered stockings’ – (Thanks RUTHIELLA!) – what the Brits call a run in a stocking.
spiv – (British) a man who lives by his wits without regular employment –or– a slacker
caryatid – a draped female figure supporting an entablature
boscage – a growth of trees or shrubs
astrolabe – a compact instrument used to observe and calculate the position of celestial bodies before the invention of the sextant
enervate – lacking physical, mental or moral vigor
idiolect – the language or speech pattern of one individual at a particular period of life
orrery – an apparatus showing the relative positions and motions of bodies in the solar system by balls moved by a clockwork
lingam – a stylized phallic symbol that is worshipped in Hinduism as a sign of generative power
contumely – harsh language arising from haughtiness

 For more vocab posts, visit BermudaOnion.

An orrery

* Actually the quote on the page before the Part One BESźEL page before the book ever begins…


Copyright © 2007-2012. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

34 thoughts on “The City and the City

  1. I’ve read most of Perdido Street Station and Kraken, and I love his YA novel, UnLunDun, so I tried this one. Read it all the way through, but couldn’t suspend my disbelief about the central concept–that people in two “different” cities occupying the same space can learn to “unsee” what’s going on in the other city. There were funny parts–I like one chase scene where the detective is tailing someone in the other city, so can’t appear to look at him–and it’s a good story with a satisfying ending. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood. I’m feeling grouchy.

    1. I don’t recall any humorous parts.

      And yes, the seeing and unseeing would be a difficult habit or practice but I suppose if the penalty is great enough, a culture can be built around it or the not-doing-it. Selective awareness.

      You just go ahead and be grouchy if you want. I am getting grouchy with my current read. The first half flew! and I was loving it and then one chapter seemed to put the breaks on my interest and now all I see is flaws and melancholy verbosity.

    1. SO many people have! I just didn’t feel any tension and had some major questions on why Borlu did somethings. It still had its amazing qualities and I so get why he is a favorite author.

  2. 😀 I was so thrilled to find out I was blurbed in this. I loved this book but I know it’s not for everybody. Now I have a lifelong crush on China though 🙂 Kraken wasn’t as popular but that might be a good thing if you weren’t crazy about The City & The City. Embassytown is much more hard sf. Perdido Street Station would also be a good one to check out. I haven’t read it but lots of his fans love it.

  3. You did a really nice job of reviewing a book that made absolutely no sense to me. I’m not sure how I will handle the review right now. In theory, the story is so simple… murder mystery/crime fiction. The only difference was the setting and the large vocabulary that really hindered my enjoyment of the book.

    I’m glad I read it, but it doesn’t make me want to pick up his others.

  4. I’m reading this one for the readalong too and I’m struggling with it. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I never feel the need to pick it up. I keep hoping it will hook me, but so far no luck.

  5. Hello Care,

    This is definitely not a book for me, I’m afraid.

    I did however, agree with you totally about the amazing range of vocabulary in the story and the fantastic amount of new words that you managed to amass whilst reading it.

    It was about 50-50 of words I did and did not know, so I thought that I would pick out my favourite words from each section.

    My most favourite word from those that I already know of would be ‘mendacious’ …. whilst the new word that made me the happiest to learn about would be ‘polysemic’, although I really felt that I should have known this one already!!

    Interesting post, thank you for sharing,


    1. Hello! Yep to POLYSEMIC – I mean, really! I should KNOW that! 🙂

      I really was just surprised it was crime drama. I was a bit taken aback that I had either forgotten or missed it.

  6. I was totally swayed by wanting to read something by Mieville and the excitement of the Twitter readalong idea.

    (I really don’t think I’m a very good readalong participant.)

  7. I gave this four stars, the extra star was for the sheer originality of it. I will definitely read more…well, at least one more, for sure.

    I don’t look up words as assiduously as you, but I did look up “contumely”…it seemed like such a nice word…but it isn’t!

    Personally I did not think that the split city concept was so farfetched. I think people “unsee” other peoples’ behavior all the time. And humans are oh so capable of imposing societal restraints which would seem very odd to an outsider not familiar with that particular society….think of all those things we accept in the 21st century because they are history: extermination camps, apartheid, the iron curtain, institutionalized slavery…the truth is really stranger than fiction.

    1. I keep trying to use contumely and make it a part of my regular vocabulary. It is a totally new word for me (rather than a continual define&forget kind of word.)

      Yes, this book was very creative and I think he did pull it off but it was frustrating at the beginning and I still question a few things. I’ll save for final post. (But they are minor.)

  8. I haven’t finished The City & the City yet, in fact I’ve just started it, really so I’m going to wait to read your post and other bloggers comments. But I will be back……(I feel like I should include an evil laugh here!)

  9. I will almost read a book just because the author has used the word “mendacious!” I have loved that word ever since I first saw “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.” On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m up to reading this one just for that word, at least not until I can find a time when my mind is not so easily distracted. Which at my age, sadly, isn’t all that often!

    1. Lisa, it doesn’t take much to entice you to read something, huh? 😉 MENDACIOUS!

      Shhh, don’t tell but I’ve actually looked up a few words in Fifty Shades. But mostly because I want to double check it was used appropriately. For example, “he offered his hand enigmatically.” What is enigmatic about offering his hand to escort her into the next room. I see nothing enigmatic about this gesture. Bothers me…

  10. What a fantastically hilarious and thorough review 🙂 I want to read this one just because it sounds so FASCINATING in its setup. Also because my favorite theater in Chicago is bringing it to the stage!

  11. After y’alls readalong I’ve been really interested in reading this but I”m a bit disappointed that you didn’t fall in love with the characters. i NEED that in my books. Well, don’t NEED but really really like when that happens. I think it’s part of the reason why The Stand is so plodding to me–don’t really love any of the characters.

    I’m like you–like going into books blind.

  12. I had such a difficult time with this book. I’m hoping to get a short review done this week. The concept was interesting, but apathetic (as you said) is the best way to describe how I felt. I never was really invested in the outcome and that just lessens my reading experience. I too prefer to go in blind and it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was happening.

  13. I think I felt the same way you did about this book. FWIW, I tried reading Kraken and got…half-way(?) through it before I decided I just didn’t care and abandoned it. It had a lot of creative stuff in it, but I just couldn’t see that it was going anywhere. I hope you have a better experience if you decide to pick it up. (And, no, the Kraken commercials aren’t spoilery-LOL!)

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