China Mieville, The City and the City

China Mieville's The City and the City is one of the most inventive novels published in the 21st century, and generally readers are so dazzled by Mieville's artistry that they don't mind not understanding what's going on.

Not exactly, but if you push them, plenty of the novel's readers will admit that they don't get it. That's how some members of the book club felt, too, but this feeling tended not to affect their enjoyment.

And so I feel weird, now, because I don't get why people don't get it. At book club I was only a few chapters into it, because grading, but I'm going to have to drag conversation that direction at the next meeting (when we're supposed to be talking instead about Big Lonely Doug).

The concept is basically that two cities overlay each other, so that they occupy the same physical space but have separate legal and economic systems. Residents figure out how to "unsee" the other city, and so there's just never any interchange. One reason for this is a terrifying force known simply as "Breach" that polices any instances where someone crosses between cities without authorization. A murder occurs, but it's not clear in which city, and so the police from both cities have to figure out how to work together (or not).

Others will have different comparators (mostly occupied or long-conflicted lands, such as Israel/Palestine), but for me it's basically just settlers in Canada, refusing to notice Indigenous presence and history, while Indigenous peoples get on with the business of building and rebuilding and unbuilding their own nations. It's confusing, and off-putting, but it's also deeply normal. Settlers need to be able to see this incompatibility in overlapping inhabitations of the same space.

Mind you, while it's also an utterly unfilmable book, it's now a TV mini-series as well as, somehow, a fricking play, so....

On reflection, these review notes sound like complaint, but they're absolutely not. This was a delight of a read!


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