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The City and the City


I read this book, the City and the City by Chine Mieville, recently and it’s really good. Dave bought it because he’s heard of this author. He’s usually a sci fi writer I think but this isn’t sci fi. It’s a ‘police procedural’ (I didn’t know this was the phrase), and it’s pretty good as that, but the main thing is its setting, which is just so clever and well conceived. It’s set in a divided city, but not divided like Berlin during the Cold War with a clear and defended border, but divided but in the same actual space. One city is Beszel, a vaguely central/Eastern European city, slightly gloomy with middle age architecture, people wearing drab coloured clothes and eating potatoes, computer systems creaking under old age, sort of like a Kafka Prague. The other city is Ul Qoma, which is more middle eastern, bright colours, everyone drinks spiced tea, but also undergoing an economic boom, so new glass buildings going up everywhere. Some parts belong clearly to either city, but quite a lot of it is ‘crosshatched’ with bits belonging to both, some buildings and bits of street being Besz some Ul Qoman. Citizens of both cities move close to each other but from childhood are taught to recognise, ignore and ‘unsee’ the citizens and spaces of the other city. Any movement of people between the two cities is through a tightly controlled immigration point in the centre. To step or even to obviously look from one city into another, would be to ‘breach’, which results in being taken away by a mysterious enforcement agency called Breach, which is everywhere and will step in within minutes to restore the distinction between the cities. It’s a mad premise in many ways, and when I first started reading it I thought how can this possible work even for one minute, but as I kept reading I got sucked in and it started seeming totally workable and even sensible, because it’s just done so well and consistently.

The main plot is about the murder of an woman in Ul Qoma but whose body ends up
in Beszel, who was an American archeology student investigating the two cities histories in her spare time. It’s told from the point of view of a Besz policeman, who is frustrated by the division, yet at the same time completely accepting of it. He eventually ends up going into Ul Qoma to investigate and has to learn to focus on the bits of city he’s been unseeing all his life. It’s really fascinating and I definitely recommend!

Just starting the first book by the same author, King Rat, hopefully it will be equally as good.

In case my random summary wasn’t very clear, Wikipedia page here, goodreads here.

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