Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Addendum to my The City and The City Review

Over on his blog, Graeme posted the reading group questions from the back of The City and The City. Seeing as I'd done a review the day before, I felt that I had no choice at all but to spew out yet more wordage on the subject. My response can be found in the comments to his post, but I'll repost the main part of it here:

China Mieville says that he considers ‘The City & The City’ “a crime novel above all.” Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?

Not at all, really. I think that the crime is important in that it's a breach of the social boundaries/rules that govern the novel, but I don't think that it is the defining event by any stretch of the imagination.

Try to think of the novel primarily in science fictional or fantasy terms instead of as a crime novel. Is there any evidence that the novel falls into either of these categories? How would looking at the novel from these perspectives change your perception of the story?

Well...that's exactly how I looked at it, so not much. I simply don't see how The City and The City could be expected to function without at least the guise of its speculative elements. As a crime novel, it's about someone who breaks a tradition that's too ridiculous to ever really believe in. As a fantasy, it's about someone who breaks a rule of nature that we gradually realize is merely arbitrary and man made. You end up at the same place, but only one allows (me) suspension of belief to any degree. Not to mention that, as a pure crime novel, the lackluster resolution to the mystery is even more of a blow.*

Mieville calls the crime novel “a kind of dream fiction masquerading as a logic puzzle.” What do you think he meant by that, and how does ‘The City & The City’ measure up to that definition?

It's an interesting definition, as, no matter how seemingly messy the mystery, there is always an underlying order to the bizarre events around it. I'd say that it could apply to The City and The City quite well, but only if one mangles Mieville's meaning a bit. This is, after all, a novel about what is almost a collective delusion (the unchangeable nature of our own perceptions), which has strict rationalizations underneath it. It is, in a way, showing us the flaws in our overly-neat perceptions of the world (IE, the standard mystery plot that, by nature, has a solution).*

Why do you think that Mieville… calls this novel an ‘anti-fantasy’? What does this term suggest to you? Do you agree that it describes ‘The City & The City’?

As is no doubt obvious by now, I agree completely. The City and The City undermines just about every expectation most go into genre novels armed with, but it does so in a way that relies on them precisely as much as it subverts them.

* Places where I cleaned up my wording or expressed my point better than I did in the comments.

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