At its core, China Miéville's The City and The City is a police procedural. But it is so much more than that. In the opening scene, main character Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad is called to a crime scene, where he discovers the body of an unknown woman (referred to as Fulana Detail, the Beszel version of "Jane Doe"), who, at first glance, seems to be a prostitute.
I know, I know. You're thinking, "a dead hooker at the beginning of a crime novel? How original!"
But hold your horses because that is SO not the case here. The plot of The City and The City is just a vehicle for a concept that will make your brain explode. In a really great way.
It turns out that the unknown woman isn't a hooker at all but was involved in some conspiracy-ish activities investigating the history of Beszel and its "topolganger" Ul Qoma. You see, the two cities for which the book is named are "crosshatched," and their inhabitants coexist without acknowledging or interacting with each other. In fact, citizens of Beszel are required by law to "unsee" Ul Qoma and its people, and vice-versa.
And this isn't an easy feat.
A street in Beszel can also have portions in Ul Qoma, which a Beszel citizen must walk around and ignore. Buildings are often split so that some rooms are in Beszel and others are in Ul Qoma. Even trees can be split, with children from the two cities climbing their prescribed branches and dutifully "unseeing" each other as they pass. Drives in Beszel traffic the same streets as drivers in Ul Qoma, though the streets have different names in the two cities, and drivers in one must navigate around drives from the other without making contact or paying noticeable attention to them. You get the idea.
Individuals who look too long at something, make eye contact with a resident, or walk into a shop on the wrong side of the crosshatching are said to be in breach, and they are taken into custody by Breach (the governing body that oversees both Beszel and Ul Qoma, and about which very little is known). The people of Beszel and Ul Qoma aren't really clear on how and why their cities came to be, but theories (and fringe groups reminiscent of The X Files) abound, and the young woman Borlu is investigating seems to have been onto something that somebody didn't want her to know.
Miéville weaves a riveting mystery into this complex and perplexing world, and believe me when I tell you that it will get under your skin. The City and The City gave me crazy dreams and resulted in some social awkwardness when I experimented with unseeing people who were standing right next to me, and it was well worth it. Miéville takes something as familiar as the police procedural and uses it to lead us into a world the likes of which we've never seen. And, as Jenn said when we discussed this book recently, he shows us the world and then slowly rotates it until we don't recognize it anymore. For that alone, The City and The City is not to be missed, but the reasons to read it are myriad.
Oh, this book! It. Is. So. Good. Where to start? At its core, China Miéville’s The City and The City is a police procedural. But it is so much more than that. In the opening scene, main character Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad is called to a crime scene, where he discovers the body of an unknown woman (referred to as Fulana Detail, the Beszel version of “Jane Doe”), who, at first glance, seems to be a prostitute. I know, I know. … more
...it's difficult for me to understand the motive and, therefore, difficult for me to appreciate. I started this book months ago and put it down over a dozen times in favor of other books with more interesting plots, characters or meaningful (to me) writing. I picked the book up again recently and read another 30-odd pages till I reached the halfway point...I thought maybe it was me, but in the end I decided it was not. It's not … more
China Mieville is one of the more clever writers in any genre. In The City and the City he as written a murder mystery, but one in a place like no other. The cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma reside in the same temporal space connected by crosshatches. And in-between is a shadowy nowhere, the Breach. The boundaries of the two cities are strictly enforced, mostly, so the citizens of each city have learned to "unsee" the other city to avoid entering the wrong temporal space that would put them in Breach. … more