Saturday, March 10, 2012

The City and The City

Synopsis from Wikipedia:  Inspector Tyador Borlú, of the Extreme Crime Squad in the European city-state of Besźel, investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student found dead with her face disfigured in a Besźel street. He soon learns that Geary had been involved in the political and cultural turmoil involving Besźel and its twin city of Ul Qoma. His investigations start in his home city of Besźel, lead him to Ul Qoma to assist the Ul Qoman police in their work, and eventually result in an examination of the legend of Orciny, a rumoured third city existing in the spaces between Besźel and Ul Qoma.

Events take place in the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma which are cities very nearly superimposed on one another but which are perceived as two different places, with the help of a secret power called Breach. 

Citizens must not see, unsee - or rather see and then ignore - anything in the other city whether it is a building, person, car and car accidents, even if they occupy the next couple of feet. people are taught the difference from an early age. his separation is emphasized by the style of clothing, architecture, gait, and the way denizens of each city generally carry themselves. 

While it makes for complex reading, the scenario is not so alien that nothing of it can be recognised. And although the author denies he wrote The City & The City as an allegory this is, due to its resonances, going to be one way of reading it. The premise of the two cities interbuilt certainly resonated with me for that reason. 

There are many situations ongoing in our real life societies that have this kind of scenario. The city I am in, when I visit one, is a vastly different place to the city the average homeless person lives in. There are many places where people 'unsee' beggars. Dark alleys where women must not walk/see. Places where you don't stare inquisitively.

I have travelled enough that I appreciate the detailed amalgam of European cities - the underground railway, the broken down medievality of Beszel. the not so way-out portrayal of the two populations inhabiting the two cities. Just as there are many ways to read a novel, there are many ways to read a city. This novel is one way. Besźel and Ul Qoma could be any half modern city in Eastern Europe. 

Mieville's novels are like chewy bread, a lot of decoding of the setting to be done, yet the characters are realistic enough to identify with. The plot has enough progression to keep this reader from getting lost in the narrative.

Another reason why I thoroughly enjoy Mieville's writing is his turn of phrase. I have a collection of first paragraphs that I copy to learn from. I quote, "We were enclosed by dirt-coloured blocks, from windows out of which leaned vested men and women with morning hair and mugs of drink, eating breakfast and watching us." And it was an absolute joy to see MS Word going berserk with green underlining.

In paragraph two, he has "paths footwalked between rubbish", "gulls coiled over the gathering".  Both unusual uses of words as verbs. At other times words not used to it , are pressed into play as adjectives. Page 178, "the huddled quick night-walking blurred body-language."

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