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Two cities in the same geographical location where the residents live side by side by un-seeing each other, ignoring each other. This is confusing to begin with and of course makes you think of the Berlin wall, but somehow China Mieville makes it work and we run along side Inspector Borlu as he investigates a crime spanning across the two cities.
I'm sure this is a great book, as the reviews suggest, but I tend to listen to audiobooks while doing other things and I found that it was very easy to miss things in this recording. It seems like a dense 'read' that you need to pay attention to in order to appreciate. I usually like urban fantasy and mysteries (I love the Dresden files, for example) but I just couldn't get into this.
Mieville has created the unique situation of a temporal singularity of two cities occupying the small physical space. Without explanation, a murder mystery unfolds within this unusual arrangement. No attempt is made to provide information for how this has come to be, but that actually fits in with the rest the story. Each city's occupants are taught to "unsee" the other and strict rules have evolved with brutal consequences for any discovered "breach" of the separation.Against this backdrop a police detective from one of the cities seeks to investigate a murder on his turf.
The maintenance of this overlapping arrangement with all the attendant oversight involved appears as a metaphor for all of our society's unspoken rules that everyone accepts, but without a proper basis or reason along with unofficial enforcement, such as not wearing white after Labor Day. The twists and turns as the investigation proceeds are well paced and mostly unanticipated.
The final resolution may not be most satisfying, but predictable and logical given that our detective increasingly finds it more and more difficult to work effectively with the existing restrictions. This story will leave the listener a bit suspicious when walking their own streets afterwards.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The City and the City is a fascinating book, a first-person hardboiled political police procedural occurring in a Kafka-esque architecture. The science fictional conceit of The City and the City--worked out with impressive detail--is that there are these two Eastern-European-ish cities existing not side by side ala East and West Berlin but intertwined or fused together with "crosshatch" areas held in common and other areas divided between the two cities. Citizens of one city are mentally conditioned from birth to unsee and unsense citizens and things of the other city so that if the house of your neighbor is in the other city, you might live your whole life and never see, hear, smell, or otherwise communicate with or interact with your neighbor.
If you can accept that strange situation, you will be in for an absorbing and suspenseful mystery novel. The crime that opens the novel, like in all good stories in the genre, exfoliates and ramifies into more important political and unsettling existential matters than the apparent brutal murder of a prostitute by a crazy customer.
The City and the City was not an easy listen for me, because of the many unfamiliar names (Beszel, Al Qoma, Borlu, Corwi, Dhatt, Buric, Mahalia, etc.) and because of the bizarre situation. But John Lee does his usual intelligent, smooth, sensitive, and restrained job reading it, and it is stimulating to imagine living in a place like those conjoined cities, which enable Mieville to make provocative play with the degree to which our (often xenophobic) perceptions of the world and ourselves and others are culturally conditioned into us from birth and the degree to which we therefore learn to unconsciously ignore uncomfortable facts.
Well written, but so dull, plotless and insipid, I had to delete the file.. Sounded great in the description, but utterly dull..
I'd listened to Perdido Street Station and absolutely loved it - what I liked about it were the broad variety of characters, how they developed and interacted, and also the characters, creatures and stories apart from the main plot that sketched out Mieville's fantastic world. In comparison to that, The City & The City is very minimalistic and plot driven, qualities I don't much enjoy. The two cities never really came alive for me, the way Bas Lag did. I'm sure it is a great listen for people who like detective novels, but it wasn't for me.
When I put the book down (shut my ipod off) I was disappointed. Sure, I read a great detective book with all the plot changes, surprises and tension you would expect, but I guess I expected a different kind of book.
The City and the City has an original setting, that takes a while to understand. A nice change from the usual sci fi, fantasy books I've been reading lately. Character development was my biggest issue, we learn nothing about the main character's personal life, or about his colleagues' for that matter. It's like a stand alone episode of CSI. Also, I'm not a big fan of the narrator. Different characters can hardly be distinguished.
Though it's entertaining, the author could've done more with the great setting, two doppelganger cities, he put out there.
I was so disappointed in this book. Its hard to believe that it was written by the same person as "Perdido Street Station" and "The Scar"! Those were both amazingly creative and imaginative books. This one really fell short.
The basic idea is that there are groups of people living right beside us who we don't see or we "un-see". Think, for example, of the homeless, or people of different colour or culture. Mr. Mieville takes this observation of human nature and tries to build a whole book around it about two different countries that live enmeshed together. They're not in different dimensions or anything like that, just that you're not allowed to look at the other guy. Maybe it would have worked for a short story, but the observation is too thin to support a whole book.
Too much of the book is taken up with describing the efforts of characters to "un-see" or "un-know" the other country. He seems to be so caught up in the the un-seeing that it seems to overwhelm the whole book and got very tiring.
The policing of this separation is "The Breach" which is a shadowing presence. There is some potential here, but he never really develops it. Everyone is terrified of Breach, but this fear seems to hang in the middle of nothing: unexplained and unbelievable. Breach turns out to be as unremarkable as the rest of the world he has created. Neither the history nor the rationale for the separation are explained.
The nominal plot is a murder mystery, but even there it falls short. The ending is abrupt and ultimately unfulfilling. Even the ending is consumed with descriptions of "un-seeing" and scandalously walking from one side of the street to the other side!
I finished the book, but I'm so very disappointed!! China Mieville was really one of my favorites, but I don't think I'll buy any more of his books.
A great thriller with a very cool, if complex, premise. While the foreign names and sometimes confusing story would make this a better read in hard copy, I really enjoyed listening to this book. Give it some time to sink in - it's worth the time.
Most intellectually stimulating novel that I've listened to in years. A unique premises, great plot, great characters. Very worthwhile.