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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
The City & The City
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Showing 1-10 of 61 reviews(4 star). See all 213 reviews
on 7 October 2017
This was so close to a 5 star read! Where do I even start? OK, I think (but could be wrong) that:

The City & The City is a noir crime novel set in twin, neighbouring cities, named Beszel and UI Qoma. Nothing too odd right? Wrong! The 2 cities occupy some of the same geographical space and due to political rivalry citizens of one city must actively ‘unsee’ anything to do with the other city. Including everything to do with the citizens of the other city and any buildings, architecture, road traffic, crime etc. The 2 cities have different culture and customs and citizens are brought up to unsee the other city. If someone accidentally sees something from the other city, they must consciously forget it (or at least never acknowledge it). To see or interact with the other city (at least without authorisation) is called ‘breach’. Breaching is viewed as the worst crime a citizen can commit and is heavily enforced by ‘Breach’ – a somewhat mysterious organisation of power. Just to complicate things (!) there are rumours of a third city existing between the other two.

"The banned had at various points in their history advocated the use of violence to bring the cities to their God-, destiny-, history-, or people-intended unity."

When a Beszel citizen is murdered, Inspector Tyador Borlú, of the Extreme Crime Squad is assigned the case. It quickly becomes necessary for Borlú to travel to Ul Qoma to get to the bottom of the investigation. As expected for a crime mystery, things aren’t as clear cut as they first appear and Borlú must get more involved with Breach than ever before.

"Breach has powers the rest of us can hardly imagine, but its calling is utterly precise. It is not the passage itself from one city to the other, not even with contraband: it is the manner of the passage."

Following along nicely so far? I wasn’t! I got lost so much whilst reading this. But don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it. I used to think that I didn’t really like mystery/crime novels but I’m starting to think I do. I read this in one day. I was glued to it and there were enough twists in it to keep me wanting more. I wanted to know the answer to the major mystery, and I wanted to know more about Breach, and I wanted to know more about the two cities and their history and how the citizens survive and how tourists manage to not accidentally breach. It was so good! Even though it does completely mess with the mind. I’m sure I missed a ton of things and I’m sure this is the kind of novel that requires multiple reads to spot everything.

This was my first China Mieville novel and I’ve heard so many good things about his writing. I am definitely going to be reading more of his work. I can’t wait to read some of his more fantasy/sci fi/weird fiction stuff.

Anyway, I’m off to… probably try and figure out what happened in this novel. Peace and Love!
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on 26 May 2017
Very interesting concept at the heart of this story which make this a very good crime/thriller story. Well worth a read
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on 7 May 2012
The City, The City is in many ways a straight up and down police procedural that is political inflected by trans-jurisdictional and office machinations. The plotting is solid and the writing nicely expressive. The characterisation is a little thin in places, especially with respect to personal lives and back story of the principal characters. It took me quite a while to get into the book, but once I was, I was hooked and it turned into a nice page turner, though I thought the ending with respect to the murder faltered a little, but not with respect to the personal outcomes and wider city politics. The key distinguishing feature of the book is its geographical imagination, which reminded me of the work of Philip K Dick and William Gibson. The twin cities of Bes'el and Ul Qoma, the architecture, the complex geometry and the densely woven sense of place play a heightened role in the narrative. The two cities are literally entwined in and through each other in complex ways to produce a unique spatiality that bought to mind the complex geographies of contested cities such as Jerusalem, Belfast and Quebec. Bes'el and Ul Qoma operate as a separate jurisdiction (with separate governments, cultures, languages, institutions, currency, fashions and so on), with some parts of the city being territorially `total' (that is wholly Bes'el or Ul Qoma) or `cross-hatched' where the city space is notionally shared. Citizens are trained to `unsee' and ignore the other city, even though it is clearly visible to them, and in the cross-hatched spaces that they share they have to avoid contact whilst continuing to `unsee' who or what they might collide with. Failing to stay within a jurisdiction and to unsee the other city is to breach, a terrible crime policed by the shadowy organization known as Breach that has extended powers to punish those that transgress (those that breach are never seen again, which acts as a strong deterrent). Copula Hall is a key location which exists in both cities and acts as a border; effectively the only location through with citizens can officially pass from one city to the other. The geography of the city then very explicitly shapes everyday life and how citizens understand and interact with the landscape they live in. Overall, a fascinating read that does something different and interesting with the police procedural format.
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on 3 October 2017
A brilliant piece of detective fiction, with a really nice twist of magical realism. The first few chapters can be a little confusing, if you're expecting a classic fantasy or crime procedural, but once you get past that the story starts to drag you along. Real world references intertwine with Mieville's creation, and it becomes easier and easier to believe in the twinned cities. All in all, a damn fine book, and the only reason it didn't get five stars was the formality of the dialogue, which always breaks immersion for me - not the case for everyone, of course. Give it (and King Rat, and Kraken) a read and see what you think
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on 6 October 2017
I found this to be a very difficult book to get into, especially as I'm not a native English speaker and since a lot of the terms are invented and/or tweaked, it was often tricky to grasp the meaning of the text. But then I really got into it and found it more and more fascinating towards the end. A very powerful exposition of modernity and its institutions
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on 18 November 2015
I was attracted to this book by hearing China Mieville discussing it on Radio 4. I therefore knew what to expect in terms of the two communities co-existing in the same space, so I do not know whether the introduction of that central idea would have been more confusing if I had not had that preparation. I also liked the idea of dealing with the very serious philosophical and moral paradoxes raised through a detective story. I did enjoy the book but was left feeling that both the crime story and the philosophocal discussion had been slightly short-changed in the process. There were times when the tension of the mystery was dissipated rather than supported by the central idea and equally, that opportunities to explore our own capacity for 'double-think' were missed. In a world where our leaders and almost every aspect of daily life are involved in willingly 'unseeing' moral paradoxes, if not outright attrocities, this book had a potentially explosive comment to make that it did not really attempt. Having said that, it did tell an interesting story, raised fascinating moral and philosophical issues and introduced the reader to a version of reality that challenges how we see our own worlds. Read it, and see where it takes you.
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on 1 August 2011
Neither pure science fiction nor entirely naturalistic, China Miéville's The City and The City functions in a strange hinterland between genre spaces. Significantly influenced by hardboiled noir detective fiction (notably Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy) and taking cues from Kafka, the novel is strikingly difficult to pin-down; and although many reviewers have tried resorting to long compound chains of genre labels (`post-modern-sci-fi-detective-noir' etc.), this is probably more confusing than helpful. So I think it's best if we stick with Miéville's own self-disclosed moniker `Weird Fiction' [his capitals], which though concise and a tad self-satisfied, is nonetheless a pleasingly eloquent descriptive of what is a damn unusual book.

As the name suggests, The City and The City is a novel rampant with doubling: it's set in two fictional cities in Eastern Europe: Bes'el and Ul Qoma, which although being different administrative, legal and cultural entities, nonetheless share the same physical space, topographically speaking; so one street may be in Bes'el, whereas the street immediately adjacent might belong to Ul Qoma. The citizens of each city must ignore the existence of the other entirely (`unsee' it - strikingly Orwellian neologism?); if they don't, then they are said to have committed a crime called `Breach', and weird things happen to them. Principally the novel concerns a by-the-numbers `extreme crime' detective called Borlú, who's tasked with investigating the murder of a Bes'el woman by a citizen from Ul Qoma; all the while Borlú becomes more and more obsessed with pseudo-academic theories that a third city called `Orciny' exists - functioning entirely unseen between the other two.

Borlú narrates in the first-person past tense, and in essence he acts as the mouth-piece of the reader by expressing confusion at the book's bizarre goings-on on the reader's behalf. Large chunks of the narrative can be baffling, and the book only really comes-together at its shocking dénouement. Compounding this tonal confusion is China Miéville's very slow reveal of made up, idiosyncratic terminology, which has to be gradually decoded by the reader as no gloss or moments of explication are provided - but rather than being frustrating, this refusal to elucidate contributes to a sense of immersion and authenticity that's so often lacking in other, less delicate sci-fi where heavy-handed exposition is problematic.

The cast is drawn competently, though occasionally it does veer into clichés of genre-type (feisty side-kick, cantankerous police chief, unidentified telephone informant etc.) and this is a shallowness of character that can't always be hidden by complex plotting and non-stop action, but I'm willing to let this pass because the real shining stars of the novel (the most developed `protagonists', if you want to be poncy about it) are the cityscapes of Bes'el and Ul Qoma. Miéville takes his (admittedly brilliant) idea of the inter-meshed cities and really runs with it, augmenting the characteristic cityphilia that he's shown in earlier novels with a fetishistic attention to the physical description of skylines, road layouts, architecture and city administration. Not only does this contribute to a unique and highly original sense of place, but also instils an unnerving feeling of the uncanny, as the cities in The City and The City function more like characters than mere settings. As Borlú moves between the two cities, the very nature of the streets, like arteries of the cities, pulses, flows and shifts - the streets tell lies and trick reader and narrator alike. Simultaneously belonging to two very different cities, the streets are alarmingly schizophrenic and threatening: they display a shifty inconsistency that creates an unsettling cognitive dissonance, an effect created by Miéville's unashamedly intricate, complicated prose. The permanent danger is that Borlú will slip-up and commit Breach, and I was torn between simultaneously wanting to see this happen, while also wanting the best for our narrator (who, remember, really functions as the mouth and eyes of the reader - a point of view character in this strange but familiar (hence ` uncanny') world).

So, The City and The City is a dark, violent and complicated hybrid of genre types that functions as a celebration of the idea of `city' rather than of the detective as moral paradigm or of the crime as grotesque indulgence (a trap so many hardboiled novels fall into). It's grounded by a rigorous attention to police procedure and a penchant for unexpectedly naturalistic dialogue (you'll read lots of `ums' and repetitions of colloquialisms/idioms: `you know' etc.) that weights the novel into a quasi real-world context when it could so easily have floated into the realms of the purely fantastical. This teasing of the fantastic can, however, be a source of frustration. The more outré, sci-fi aspects are dangled like the proverbial carrot in front of both reader and protagonist alike: the hidden `third city', the possibility of advanced technology, the strange crime that is `Breach' - these are all narrative threads that are im-rather than ex-plicit, and it's demonstrable of Miéville's skill that, even when he's writing minor fantasy, he can suggest the most head-spinning weirdnesses. But readers looking for the out-and-out bizarro creations of his earlier novels might find The City and The City lacking.
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on 17 July 2015
Mieville crafts a good tale, but I wasn't entirely convinced. All that kept the worlds together, entwined but separate, was the will of the people of both cities. I felt there needed to be even more outward censure of misbehaviour for this to truly be realistic. Policing peoples' behaviour and liberty to the extent this book shows requires no-nonsense police, as well as mysterious, dark entities.

I also felt that all areas of the world created, all the niches and turns were explored and most explained, too, but that the novel was more about the exploration of this than the story in some places.

For example, I didn't guess who the killer was until the last third or so of the book but the ending was lack lustre despite this. Pace ramped up a few chapters before the end but then fizzled by the big reveal - disappointing.

The ending itself was also not satisfactory for me. A whole new world was hinted at, with two different possible scenarios, and yet neither of these play out and the actual result of the story ties all the ends but is too ordinary to fulfil my need for escapism and change. There was little sense the characters had progressed in themselves from the beginning, and ditto for the society.

This may be the point, but it wasn't the possibility I wanted to occur.
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on 17 April 2011
In 'The City & The City', the city of Beszel exists in the same space as the city of Ul Qoma. Citizens of each can dimly make out the other, but are forbidden to do so by a supreme authority known as Breach. Citizens have to "unsee" one another so as to avoid being harshly punished by Breach.

This cracking sci-fi thriller centres around the discovery of a young woman's body in a rundown housing estate in Beszel. The detective at the centre of the novel (Borlú) soon becomes convinced that there's something unusual about the murder. Did it involve illegal passage between the two cities? Is it therefore a crime for Breach to investigate? The book is an unputdownable murder investigation which slowly opens up to become something bigger and more significant than originally suspected.

The murdered woman (Mahalia) had been taking part in an archeological dig - a dig which gradually becomes central to Borlú's investigation. Mahalia becomes convinced that a third city, Orciny, exists in the space between Beszel and Ul Qoma - a city unseen by occupants of Beszel and Ul Qoma. Is Orciny violently controlling both cities like a venemous Big Brother? Is Breach actually Orciny? Was Mahalia murdered because she discovered the truth?

With the two cities existing in the same space and the citizens of each "unseeing" one another Miéville constructs a metaphor for modern life in which our habit of "unseeing" allows us to ignore what is happening to others who live in the same space as we do e.g. rich v poor; Occupied v Occupier.

And with the introduction of the third city, Miéville skillfully raises the prospect that the two cities (are they actually one city?) are deliberately being driven and kept apart by an unseen power which has no interest in there peaceful (re)unification. It made me think of politically (and economically) divided cities of the past and present e.g. Belfast, Jerusalem. And how the citizens of each "unsee" one another.

This is the first Miéville novel I've read - but it definitely won't be the last. A cracking read.
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on 18 July 2010
The city & the city is a crime thriller set in a slightly alternative reality, in the cities of Besz and Ul Koma. It is also a work of significant imagination: Besz and Ul Koma are two cities that cover the same ground, but choose to act as separate, independent city states. People in Besz "unsee" people and buildings that are in Ul Koma and vice versa. Enforcing this strict regime of selective tunnel vision is a mysterious force called Breach.

One day, a murdered woman's body is found in Besz, and a police detective from the extreme crime squad is set on the case. But there is something strange about it, and her, and soon he finds himself in over his head in conspiracy theories, corruption, and international liaisons...

China Mieville has an enviable imagination. Perdido Street Station was a benchmark, and while his other novels are not always up to the same standards of tour-de-force-ness, The City & The City is absolutely, on many levels, a work of genius. The satirical premise is almost credible, the detail is impressive, and the story is gripping. In fact, it is almost a 5 star novel.

The things that work against it, in the end, are the resolution of the crime (I was a little disappointed), and the fact that he does stray from a perfectly realistic world into the borderline supernatural (especially when it comes to Breach), without being entirely consistent about it. In some scenes, reality is stretched in the same way that a wire fu action scene in a movie might stretch it, or Watchmen the comic book. Not all the way into definite super-reality, but enough to make suspension of disbelief an issue in an otherwise painfully realistic novel.

I'd definitely recommend this book as a fantastic, standalone example of Mieville's power of imagination, and a decent noir crime thriller. 4.5 out of 5 stars, really...
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