The City & The City


Rating: 4 stars

This intriguing book posits the two cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. These cities aren’t just neighbours, they sit on top of and alongside each other. Some posit a ‘Cleavage’ in deep history, others a Conjoining, but the origin of the cities is lost in antiquity. What is remarkable about the cities is how they live together: citizens in both are trained from an early age to ‘unsee’ and ‘unhear’ everything in the other, from the buildings and architecture to the people sharing the streets to the cars on the road. And overseeing it all is Breach, which enforces the separation with an iron fist.

In Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlú finds himself heading up the case of a murdered woman, which turns out to be more than he expected, and soon finds himself having to make the journey of a few steps physically, but enormous distance psychologically, to Ul Qoma and eventually gets on the trail of a mysterious third city, rumoured to share the space between the other two.

There’s a solid hard-boiled murder mystery at the core of this book, and Borlú is a good hard-boiled detective, trying to do what’s right while navigating the labyrinthine laws and mores of his society. The real stars of the book are Beszel and Ul Qoma. It’s fascinating seeing Miéville constructing this very believable twinned but very much separate society and the effort that both sets of citizens go to to maintain it. Every so often, Miéville throws in something that lets you know that this isn’t some fantasy world: the city and the city are somewhere on the edge of Europe, in a world where there’s Coke, Google, and so forth. It makes them feel even odder, but at the same time, there’s nothing that I couldn’t particularly believe might go on somewhere in the depths of Eastern Europe.

The language of the book is quite spare and easy to read, although I did find something about it that meant that I had to parse a sentence a few times before I got it. It’s not the writing or the grammar, but sometimes oddly placed commas or (lack of) paragraph breaks just made me pause and think a bit. It just goes to show how important that these structures are to our writing, no matter what some people might insist.

An enjoyable book that definitely keeps you on your toes while reading, and never ends up going where you think it will.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330534192
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of publication: 2009

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