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The City and the City

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The City and the City Cover

 

 

Author Q & A

An Interview with China Miéville, author of The City & The City

Question: Cities are a central theme in many of your novels. What is it about “the city” that fascinates you?

China Miéville: I'm almost certainly the worst person to answer this - I think writers are generally not the best people to understand their own predilections. But yes, pretty much all my books feature cities to some larger degree or other. I've lived in big cities all my life, particularly London, which is imprinted through me as if I was a stick of rock. (I don't know if that reference works in the US?) I like the palimpsest of cities, the mix of architectural ages, aesthetics, social groups. I like the fact that everything is distinct and mixed up and makes a totality which isn't reducible to the sum of its parts. I suspect I'm becoming a cliche, though: maybe I'll have to write a book set in a desert to spice things up a bit.

Q: Do you have any favorite cities (real or imaginary)?  And have those cities had any influence on your writing?

CM: Oh plenty. The division between the real and imaginary cities is not hard and fast, either: I love the real London, the real Cairo, the real Havana, but I also passionately love those cities as they are filtered through fiction and art. The represented London, for example, in the works of De Quincey, Iain Sinclair, Dickens, Gaiman, Machen, et many al, is at least as important to me as the real one, in terms of influence. New York, Providence, Prague (all in real and imagined forms). When it comes to entirely imagined cities, Viriconium, Imrryr, Philip Reeve's Traction Cities, Celephais. The cities in Mary Gentles' _Rats and Gargoyles_, and Gene Wolfe's _Book of the New Sun_. The real Harare didn't particularly capture my imagination, but as filtered through Dambudzo Marechera's work, it did.

Q: What inspired you to depart from previous works and write your first police procedural?

CM: Various factors. I wanted to write a present for my Mum, who was a huge fan of crime novels: though she really liked my books, none of them were precisely her sort of thing, so I wanted to write something that was both exactly my sort of thing and exactly her sort of thing. I've been interested in the field a while - a large number of writers I respect enormously are huge crime readers, particularly I think because of the rigour you have to have over structure and narrative, so I wanted to take part in that. It's interesting to try to write books that are outside your immediate purview. There's also the fact that urban police procedurals involve a lot of dgging around in the undergrowth and the specificities of their settings, which appealed because I was very into by the setting I'd come up with, and thought a crime novel would be a good way to foreground it without subordinating plot.

Q: Did your writing in this new genre require any special research on technique?

CM: I was very concerned that, as I have no track record in this area, I shouldn't seem to be crashing in clodhoppingly, breaking the china and generally being disrespectful (as one sometimes sees from 'mainstream' authors jumping into the genres I'm associated with). What that meant was that before I started, I steeped myself in crime. I'd always read it on and off - usually when something was recommended by my Mum - but I went on a binge, revisiting old favourites and trying some new, going for the most feted writers as well as trying some more underground names. I relied a lot on the recommendations of trusted friends. I also went for a lot of stories with non-British or -American settings, as my own setting is rather different. So I tried very hard to write something absolutely respectful of the field, in terms of its structure, narrative rigour, and attempting to be part of it, investigating various different traditions of crime novel. (Police procedurals, conspiracy thrillers, whodunnits.) If I've done my job right, there's no cheating - although I would say that one of the things I most like in some crime novels are the moments of gap, when something marvellous - not supernatural, necessarily - intrudes, when there's an ellipsis that you as a reader can't enter and you're left with a sense of exciting estrangement. I find that tradition in particular in European crime novels. I stress that I don't mean logical *cheating* - so much as a slightly oneiric momentum. A lot of eastern European novels have that sense that you're walking in a landscape as much slightly dreamy/psychic as real. And in the English tradition, I'd say that some of Holmes's leaps of logic while not in any way formally fantastic achieve their effect by a sort of cognitive estrangement - they are formally realistic without being realistic at all. That's not a criticism - it's praise.

The other thing that was important to me was about voice. Because pace is very important in a crime novel, I wanted to experiment with a rather different voice than in my other books. They've tended towards very baroque prose - this is more pared down, attempting fidelity to a different set of traditions. There's no 'better' here - I still passionately love lush prose, when it's done well. But it's good for you as a writer, I think - and I hope for readers too - to try different things, to experiment and change.

Q: The cities in The City & The City are imaginary, but you positioned them in Eastern Europe.  Why select this location?

CM: Are they in Eastern Europe? Are you sure? They *might* be. At least roughly.  There are various clues as to their *approximate* locations but the stress is very much on the word 'approximate' there. The cities of the title are two very different cities, both in different ways tilting towards distinct (if, inevitably, overlapping) psychogeographic traditions. Their locations are ways of mediating those traditions, and the cities places within them. This I realise is an evasive answer. What I will say is that Eastern European writing was, for various reasons, extremely important to this book - Bruno Schulz, Kafka - and that flavour I hope comes through. (Hazy lines, though: so was Mitteleuropean writing - Alfred Kubin - though. And, in a mediated way, French. Also American - Chandler. This is not to disavow the Eastern European, which was particularly key.)

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

BlueBlaze, January 21, 2012 (view all comments by BlueBlaze)
The City and the City is an alternate-universe fantasy novel, in the form of a police procedural. There are a lot of ways this ambitious, risky undertaking could have gone astray, but China Mieville pulled it off, I think, brilliantly pretty much all the way through. As a linguophile, I found the language issues integrated into the story, a common feature of Mieville's writing, an interesting bonus.
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Ariel Valladares, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Ariel Valladares)
What an amazing book! The City & Tbe City showcases two cities, side by side and even sometimes overlapping, with citizens that very carefully do not see the citizens in the other city. China Mieville tells this so-much-more-than a murder mystery wonderfully. I've become a great fan of his work, and highly recommend this novel. Enjoy!
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Heather Thayer, September 4, 2011 (view all comments by Heather Thayer)
I have read this book multiple times now and love it more each time. The first time the construct of "unseeing" was difficult to imagine, but then I realized that we do it all the time. We "unsee" those who are different or disturbing or unpleasant. We "unsee" the crazy lady shouting on the street corner, "unsee" the drunk in the gutter and the panhandler. How much of a step would it be to unsee an entire city?
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780345497512
Publisher:
Del Rey
Subject:
Fantasy - General
Author:
Mieville, China
Author:
China Mi?ville
Subject:
Mystery fiction
Subject:
Fantasy fiction
Publication Date:
20090526
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
9.48x6.58x1.15 in. 1.19 lbs.

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The City and the City Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 336 pages Del Rey Books - English 9780345497512 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Mieville is back with a police procedural set in a pair of Eastern European cities that share a unique border. The City and the City explores personal and cultural identity, and schisms within both. Less fantasy than his previous books, but a fascinating not-quite-reality.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Better known for New Weird fantasies (Perdido Street Station, etc.), bestseller Miéville offers an outstanding take on police procedurals with this barely speculative novel. Twin southern European cities Beszel and Ul Qoma coexist in the same physical location, separated by their citizens' determination to see only one city at a time. Inspector Tyador Borl of the Extreme Crime Squad roams through the intertwined but separate cultures as he investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, who believed that a third city, Orciny, hides in the blind spots between Beszel and Ul Qoma. As Mahalia's friends disappear and revolution brews, Tyador is forced to consider the idea that someone in unseen Orciny is manipulating the other cities. Through this exaggerated metaphor of segregation, Miéville skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities. " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "An excellent police procedural and a fascinating urban fantasy, this is essential reading for all mystery and fantasy fans."
"Review" by , "China Miéville has made his name via award-winning, genre-bending titles such as King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council. Now, in The City and the City, he sets out to bend yet another genre, that of the police procedural, and he succeeds brilliantly."
"Review" by , "Like his previous work, The City is an unabashed love letter to the diversity, polyglot sprawl, complexities, contradictions, pitfalls, humanity and streetlife of the metropolis. It's also studded with Miéville's inventive vocabulary."
"Review" by , "Grimy, gritty reality occasionally spills over into unintelligible hypercomplexity, but this spectacularly, intricately paranoid yarn is worth the effort."
"Review" by , "Lots of books dabble in several genres but few manage to weld them together as seamlessly and as originally as The City and The City. In a tale set in a series of cities vertiginously layered in the same space, Miéville offers the detective novel re-envisioned through the prism of the fantastic. The result is a stunning piece of artistry that has both all the satisfactions of a good mystery and all the delight and wonder of the best fantasy."
"Review" by , "Daring and disturbing...Miéville illuminates fundamental and unsettling questions about culture, governance and the shadowy differences that keep us apart."
"Review" by , "[O]nce the story picks up speed, it rarely flags, and the seemingly dry prose is a perfect format for exposition about the novel's central conceit....[I]t's doubtful readers will mind the familiarity when offered an urban environment with this much depth. (Grade: A-)"
"Synopsis" by , New York Times bestselling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in an enthralling city that is unlike any other — real or imagined.

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger.

Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. It is a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen, a journey to Beszel's equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma.

With 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.

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