I had heard about China Miéville for some time – years, actually – and was just about to get Perdido Street Station when I for some reason put it back on the shelf at the shop. Instead, and considerably later, I got The City & The City. Then it went to sleep, on my bed side table, from where I picked it up some days ago – I hadn’t had the energy left for reading for some time but decided I just HAD to read, to get back on track again.
It starts out an almost ordinary murder mystery. A woman with too nice hair and skin to belong either among the whores she’s made up to look like or in the neighbourhood in which her body is found is murdered and we follow the detective who got her case on his table.
I say “almost” ordinary, because it is soon clear that something is not what the reader could expect it to be – the detective chooses to “unsee”, and it is soon apparent that it is something weird going on with this city, the city of Beszél. After a while the reader understands that the city is a city state and not only that – it is TWO city states, sharing the same physical space, more or less, and with the respective citizens respecting the borders by reflectively not seeing – unseeing – people who look different, houses or infrastructure not belonging in the city they live in even if sometimes half a house is Beszél and half house is in Ul Qouma (which is their “neighbour” state).
The perpetrators play with this, making things difficult for the detective.
This could had lead somewhere interesting. There’s lots of opportunities to discuss alienation, the Other, nationalism, and other things. Instead – and here’s a spoiler warning is in it’s place, because I’m almost going to tell whodiddit – there’s a power-greedy politician, a disillusioned archaeologist, an opportunist multinational, and an obsolete map. Felt like a cop-out.
There is some more to it, of course, but this is exactly how it felt after I had turned the last page – let-down, not living up to the promises made by the build-up.
The author clearly is skilled at writing. The imagery is vivid. It was a nice read as long as it lasted. But then it was gone, without leaving much of an impression. So, off to find something else to read :-)