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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 Borlof the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.
Borl must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel's equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma.
With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borl is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid 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 and those they care about 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.
Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.
This is a very creative book. It doesn't really fit into any genre easily. It is a detective story, it is a political thriller, it is a bit of science fiction. It is actually none of those things and all of them at the same time. Imagine two peoples sharing the same physical space (a former eastern bloc city) yet living entirely apart - ignoring each other, pretending that the other does not exist. Then imagine a murder that seems to cross these carefully defended boundaries. That is the premise of The City & The City and it is extremely well-executed.
18 of 18 people found this review helpful
Genre: Fiction,, mystery, semi-real world (On earth in a fictional geographically nonspecific European country)
Rated: PG13: A lot of cussing, no sex, some violence
Static or Dynamic: Dynamic; this is an active mystery in a society with very strange social rules that enhance and complicate the story.
1st or 3rd Person: 1st person: our chief male detective of the extreme crime squad
Abstract or Concrete: Abstract heavy. The book is placed in two countries that border each other. The citizens in each country must ignore the happenings of the other country, literally, even if they are feet away or they get black bagged by a power called Breach. The book centralizes on the theme of selective ignorance and how it has shaped the two countries that the concept revolves around. The concept is heavily present and thoroughly intriguing. I've never felt so intrigued about a story before. This is right up there with the Matrix, and V for Vendetta though it's got a much more classy feel than either of those.
Linear or Non-Linear: Linear, it's a complexly straightforward murder mystery.
Narrator: John Lee is my favorite voice actor and he did a wonderful performance reading this book. His voice captures the rich character behind our protagonist and he successfully makes the anxious moments of the story feel that way.
Plot Outline: The book might be characterized as what a cold war would physically look like in a cultural sense. Each country has vastly different politics, both reminiscent of a communist and capitalist system though that's not heavily stressed. The residents of the two cities live right next to one another but must pretend that anyone they see on the other side doesn't exist. The illustration of this is wonderfully employed when a murder in one city, has results in the other. The quest becomes tenuous as our inspector has to navigate the jurisdictional hooplah involved in the alien governments. I loved this book and have listened to it twice now. I'm sure that I will listen to it again with the same amount of entertainment. Parts of it are simply too intriguing not to poor over and other parts of it are spooky in the way that well contrived conspiracy theories can be.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
The City and the City is built around a surreal but interesting premise. Somewhere in eastern Europe is a country called Beszel. Occupying the same physical space, but existing in some sort of overlapping alternate reality is another country called Ul Quma. Citizens of both lands take great pains to avoid interacting across the boundary, to the point of stopping themselves from even seeing each other. If anyone does, a shadowy, powerful organization known as Breach will take that person into custody, with dark, unknown consequences. Some people, including the graduate student whose slaying begins the book, believe in a mythical "third city", but this isn't discussed too loudly.
Within this scenario, Mieville crafts a skillful murder mystery, whose trail of clues soon leads his middle-aged detective narrator towards what appears a larger cross-border conspiracy. Mieville does a fine job of giving his two cities individual personalities, and the various factions and characters within them a gritty, urban realism. Through his careful attention to detail, it becomes easy to imagine two places (or not) where there's a colossal elephant in the room that affects everything, but no one can agree what to do about it, or even that the room would be better off without the elephant, so people find ways to unsee it. As with Orwell's Big Brother, it's unclear how much of Breach's power resides in the real world and how much of it is in citizens' minds. Sound like anything you're familiar with?
I ask that question because this is a work that requires a certain investment from readers. Without a doubt, those attempting to take this novel as straight-up science fiction or fantasy are going to be baffled and disappointed. It???s much more of a metaphorical work, akin to Kafka, whose odd alternate reality is a distorted mirror of the real world. If literary symbolism is your thing, this would be a fun one to share and ponder with a like-minded friend or two (I don???t believe the message is as straightforward as ???rich versus poor???, as some reviewers seem to think)
That said, I was a bit disappointed by the ending. It felt rushed, as though the author had decided to move on to other things, and to write the most efficient conclusion. I would have liked a little more tidying up of loose ends. Also, in comparison to Perdido Street Station, I found the tone and manner of the City and the City a bit restrained. While this is undoubtedly the more mature work, the writing and characters simply aren???t as colorful, and I missed that a little.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Brilliant -- indeed an urban fantasy. Mieville creates an utterly plausible (sur)reality which is grounded in ordinary details. The landscape and the lexicon are fascinating, and that makes an intriguing backdrop to an otherwise fairly standard police procedural. At times the setting takes precedence, and at times the action takes precedence. There's a fine balance here which Mieville masters.
The narration is excellent. John Lee does a great job with the fictitious language and the cast of characters.
It's a book that needs a second listen in order to catch all the nuances that one misses the first time around. Well worth the listen at however many credits.
20 of 23 people found this review helpful
This book's main character would be right at home in a Henning Mankell or Elizabeth George noir detective novel, intense, brooding, and intelligent, it is clear that his work is the focus of his life. The book however, is very different from a classic detective novel because of the wonderful, intensely strange cities in which it is set. Without going into too much detail, which would spoil the lovely sense of discovery the reader experiences as initial confusion changes to awestruck fascination with this amazing imaginary city. The book is literate, exciting, and so amazingly creativeI I was sad to see it come to an end. and I immediately looked for everything else China Mieville has written. The reader, John Lee, also deserves kudos for bringing the book so vividly to life. First rate.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
It took me a while to figure out what was going on but once you get the hang of it and hour or two in this is a wonderful, imaginative complex sci-fi detective story with great characters and superb narration. recommended
14 of 16 people found this review helpful
Very well read by John Lee, this audiobook will not only keep you interested through brilliant suspense, but will also tickle your intellect with its fascinating forays into anthropology and the power of human beings to shape themselves to fit their environment -- even when they've made that environment themselves.
Way more fun than reading Foucault, but much more interesting than your average suspense novel.
It's so full of interesting words, however, I really wish I could see how they were spelled...
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
I had previously read Perdido Street Station and found it to be too fantastic, so I was hesitant to download this. The City & The City, however, is very realistic, although with an interesting twist. Taken as a gritty detective novel, the plot is well done, suspenseful, and has some interesting turns.
The atmosphere is augmented by the cultural backdrop. It's not clear exactly where the setting is, but is has a distinct Eastern European, bordering on Middle Eastern, color.
The cultural details that arise from the unique relationship between the two cities in the story are very insightful. The willingness of people to "unsee" others and to submit to a seemingly omnipotent agency recall Eastern European, Communist era politics.
Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable book. The narration is very good. The characters could be a little deeper, and the underlying principle of the two cities is a little difficult to buy into completely. Still, the atmosphere draws you in, and the plot keeps you interested.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
From time to time, I have felt the urge to bump up a book’s rating for the wrong reasons. In fact, I now feel guilty, the urge to come clean and say a little more about it.
There were those innocent occasions when I felt that a book deserved better than I wanted to give it because I just didn’t care for the book though I recognized that others might have and it deserved “a nod.” However, there were also those other times, admittedly fewer times but times nonetheless, when I kicked a rating or two up a notch because I thought I might otherwise appear unlettered, unread or unsophisticated. Reviewers, who not only I but many others respected, might have had nothing but praise for a particular book and I knew I would appear foolish if I did not enthusiastically or passionately praise a particular book; I could not do that but I had to at least award it a decent number of stars.
It cannot compare to how foolish the feeling is now admitting to that deceit and dishonesty.
I am probably guilty of little harm or foul of significance in this forum. There are so many reviewers / reviews and I’m surprised when anyone even reads one of mine. But I also write reviews for myself. I write them in an attempt to improve my writing skills. I sometimes gain additional insight into a book by writing a review. I sometimes gain insight into myself: If I am not honest about a book, I am not being honest with myself.
My feeling about China Mieville’s The City and The City is lukewarm at best. The premise of two cities occupying virtually the same space but “unseen” by each other sounds intriguing enough but the “unseeing,” “unhearing” and yes, especially the “unsmelling” gets a tad old after awhile. Actually, it didn’t work much for me at all.
What premise that has worked for me is the one proposed by Michio Kaku in Parallel Worlds of actual parallel universes. Here is a thrilling journey into multidimensional space that requires no suspension of “unbelief.” These are cities, nay universes that might exist everywhere within centimeters of each other. And the most intriguing premise is that it might just all be true.
What I also particularly appreciated about Kaku’s work was the cosmological and even religious implications, a discussion of which by the author has the ability to bend the reader’s mind. We get little of that from Mieville. Instead, for me, the piece comes across as shallow, pulp fiction with a noir device that was not always brilliantly executed. It seems a bit smelly to me when the detective has a Columbo-esque moment and has to explain and summarize the whole crime to the audience; when all the details don’t just naturally unfold to the reader within the storyline itself. And I’m sure there were a few, maybe even several memorable quotes from the book but for the life of me, I cannot remember one.
But dang, there were all those awards the book received. What am I to do with them? Could I possibly give this book only a couple of stars? Shoot, let’s just round it up, give the damn thing 3 stars and call it good. Now that wouldn’t be dishonest, would it? I told you what I did! Yeah it would be dishonest. I really didn’t care much for this book. I read Perdido Street Station (2000) and this (tC&tC 2009) is no Perdido Street Station. Is it fair to always compare back in time to an author’s earlier work? I think that it is when much later works don’t seem to tread water, let alone get better. Sorry folks and sorry China. I just haven’t been impressed with the emperor’s newer clothes.
31 of 39 people found this review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful