The City & The City

First off, some quick background: there’s a group of us who are undertaking what my wife calls the Crazy Hugo Project. We’re going to read all of this year’s Hugo Award nominees before the voting due date. The first one I’ve tackled is China Miéville’s The City & The City.

In some ways, this book reminded me of the movie Dark City – or at least the movie that Dark City could have been if you plugged your ears for the opening voice-over. Imagine a fairly straightforward murder mystery involving an unidentified body in a run-down city in a possibly former Eastern Bloc country. Then add to that an unexplained twist of physics and geography that has forced that city to occupy almost the same space as the booming cultural center of a possibly Middle-Eastern nation. That’s the situation in Besźel and Ul Quoma.

Portions of the two cities overlap – how and why is never fully explained – and the inhabitants of each have become adept over a lifetime at ignoring or “unseeing” whatever may be happening in the city that they are not currently in. If you do, for some reason, pay attention to something going on elsewhere, you are committing an act known as “Breach”, and you may draw the attention of a mysterious group (also known as “Breach”) that enforces the separation of the two cities.

Miéville does a wonderful job slowly revealing the way this world works. There’s no huge exposition drawing attention to the world; the characters have lived like this all their lives, so there’s no reason for them to explain it to each other. The revelation develops naturally, as the investigator discovers that Breach itself and the rules of when someone is or isn’t Breaching are central to solving the mystery.

And I’m not going to reveal a lot about that. The main character, Inspector Tyador Borlú, is outstanding: a smart, dedicated police officer, knuckling down to solve what seems like a routine sordid crime. Following him through the twists and turns of the story was a treat, and well worth reading.

Pages: 312

Total Pages: 11,162

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