Mar. 19th, 2017

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The March category in the Wordy Birds’ reading challenge is transport or travel, and I headed back to China Mieville (sorry, Becka! it’s pronounced Mee-ay-vill…) to re-read The City and The City. March sees me embarking on an intensive six-month novel programme, and one of the requirements is to analyse a ‘comparison novel’. Now, I could never write anything as amazing as The City and The City, but it’s a contemporary fantasy novel with a twist to reality, which is how I would describe my novel, so I was looking for tips on how to present a different world without weighing the narrative down with exposition.

The City and The City is a murder mystery set in a pair of fictional eastern European cities. The twist on reality is that they both occupy the same geographical space, but are so completely separate that the inhabitants of one are not allowed to acknowledge the existence of the inhabitants of the other, even when they’re walking down the same street.

The travel aspect comes into it when the detective (a resident of one of the cities) has to go to the other city in order to investigate the murder, and the way that transition is portrayed is brilliantly done. There’s a section in the novel where he has to go into a large government building, go through all the tedious hoops of security and passport checks, and then exit the same building, but into the other city. It’s a telling indictment of the endless bureaucracy of foreign travel in our own world, made all the more ridiculous by the fact that he hasn’t actually travelled anywhere in real terms.

The whole book is so clever, with the setting providing a million little moments of conceptual genius, but it’s difficult to talk more about it without giving too much away. The characters are engaging, the details of the murder case are fascinating, and there are so many great uses and abuses of the rules of the two cities. And then there’s the introduction of a kind of regulatory body called Breach, which monitors interaction between the two cities, and takes the book to a whole new level of mind-bending weirdness. It’s a wonderful book, which I would highly recommend.

July 2017

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