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The City and The City - The Ex-Communicator

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April 10th, 2010


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08:31 am - The City and The City
I am reading The City and The City by China Mieville at the moment. I am finding it hard to stick to it. I think this is something to do with me, rather than the book. That is, I can tell it is well written, I can tell it is an interesting premise, but it is sitting there, and I am not picking it up, except when I force myself. I have to make my eyes engage with the words.

I was watching a documentary yesterday, with The City and The City open on my knee - an example of me not reading it - and Will Self came on. I nearly said to H 'I'm reading a book by him'. Then I realised that for some reason China Mieville and Will Self occupy almost the same point in my internal thought-map. I ought to like their books. I like them as people (as far as I know of them), they are British left wing SF fans like me, from my generation, we largely share values, they make me laugh when they tell funny stories on the telly. But I can't read their books.

For this to be a good blog post the final paragraph would resolve this paradox with some kind of insight, but I am currently lacking that insight. I don't think it's that they are masculine writers, as I like some very masculine writers such as Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy. The nearest I can say is that their work is perhaps too mediated, too controlled; that is, the flow of the work seems to arise from authorial decision rather than authorial compulsion. They seem once removed from the work. They do not seem vulnerable in the work.

However, this could be way off. I am going to persist in this novel, at least for a while longer, and see if I can break through whatever barrier is excluding me from it. I also have some thoughts on the premise of the novel, but I ought to try to get into it before I say anything about that.

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:altariel
Date:April 10th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
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I agree with you about the lack of vulnerability and the excess of control. I feel like I'm being asked to watch rather than to participate.

Also I think Mieville lacks humour. It could be that I'm not getting the jokes.
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From:matildabj
Date:April 10th, 2010 09:37 am (UTC)
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I haven't read any China Mieville and have had a vague notion that I should. communicator's post made me want to dip my toe in, but I'm now feeling like retracting said toe again. No humour? Meh. I should probably just give it a go and form my own opinion (this is me thinking aloud now), do you have any recommendations where to start?
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From:altariel
Date:April 10th, 2010 09:40 am (UTC)
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I have only read Perdido Street Station. One awesome thing was worth the price of admission, but the last third was a duty read (and I skimmed).
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From:communicator
Date:April 10th, 2010 12:28 pm (UTC)
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I am pleased that I'm not the only one who thought it. 'Watch rather than participate' - yes, that's the feeling.
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From:lamentables
Date:April 10th, 2010 09:15 am (UTC)
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What you describe was my experience of trying to read Perdido Street Station - everything about it should have made it irresistible, and yet, after getting distracted about 1/3 of the way through, I never found enough enthusiasm to pick it up again. I didn't dislike it, I just...slid off it somehow.
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From:communicator
Date:April 10th, 2010 12:32 pm (UTC)
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I got about a third of the way through too. And as you say, there was nothing that pissed me off or put me off. I ought to like it.
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From:lamentables
Date:April 10th, 2010 12:35 pm (UTC)
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Curious.

I've a short story of his sitting on the desk waiting to be read. abrinsky noted it as being pertinent to something we were discussing. I'll be interested to see how I take to that.
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From:matgb
Date:April 10th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
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I really like Miéville, read PSS on the plane to California (the_prince made my buy it in the airport bookstore), and have read everything else.

Really like his short story collection, Looking For Jake, but haven't reread much of his books, perhaps ought to.

City is next on my too read pile, the local libraries finally managed to get hold of several books I'd had on order for ages. All arrived on the same day, so I'm reading the most recent MErchant Princes book first, it's then between City and the newest Reynolds.
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From:communicator
Date:April 10th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
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I am sure I am in a minority in not getting on with him. I should use my libraries more to get hold of the books I want to read.
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From:sugoll
Date:April 10th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
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I made it through Perdido Street Station, and that was enough for me.
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:April 10th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
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I had a similar experience with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If the book's not grabbing you, put it aside. There are lots of other good books in the world.
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From:communicator
Date:April 11th, 2010 04:30 am (UTC)
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I will stick at it for a bit longer because I think I might be able to get past this barrier.
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From:muuranker
Date:April 10th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
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Do you like reading detective fiction?

I ask because I have just finished reading The City and The City, and was astonished to find I adored it.

I have heard Mievill read extracts from his works, and thought 'oh, that's good!', but failed to read more than the first chapter of anything he's written. ExMemSec feels the same way. This year, as usual, got all the candidate volumes and, having read The City The City, couldn't wait for me to read and finish it, so that we could talk about it.

I suspect that we loved it partly because it is the kind of book we would read if it were set in one of those other cities who met at the conference (Belfast, Berlin and Jerusalem, from memory), and devoid of fantastic elements. It reminded me a lot of Ian Rankin's Rebus series (The Naming of the Dead in particular).

So, in part, I think you should keep reading ... but in part, I think you may have to wait for Mieville to write the one you will love.
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From:communicator
Date:April 11th, 2010 04:29 am (UTC)
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I do read quite a bit of detective fiction, like the Rebus books. That's why this one I thought I should particularly stick at. It has the most chance of being my sort of thing in the long run.
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From:vilakins
Date:April 11th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
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I really enjoyed 'Perdido Street Station' and 'The Scar', but found 'Iron Council' hard going because I just didn't care about the characters or what they were doing.

'The City and the City' I found absolutely fascinating. I kept imagining myself living in such a place and learning how not to see the other city, and what the strange societies created by that would be like. I just wish there'd been more about the cities' pasts and how the split happened. I wanted more.
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From:katlinel
Date:April 13th, 2010 11:17 am (UTC)
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I found this blog post on one aspect, that of the portrayal of sex workers, of Miéville's work that I thought might interest you.

I've never quite brought myself to manage to read any of his books - there's always something I've found slightly offputting when I've heard them discussed although I don't know why. And I haven't warmed to the man in person when I've encountered him briefly on panels where I've been an audience member. Perhaps that shouldn't matter; sometimes it does. The comment from the above-linked post that makes me wary, as it is eerily reminiscent of Whedon's response to feminist critique of Whedon's work, is this:

"The first thing he said when I mentioned the topic was that he'd thought through the gender politics of it and was prepared to stand by that part of the story, both its stance and its way of getting there; I think he'd had this conversation before, and that he'd had it with himself before that."

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