Miéville’s The City & the City

Detail of the cover art of Miéville's The City & the City.

Detail of the cover art of Miéville’s The City & the City.

After quickly reading China Miéville’s Embassytown (2011), I picked up Miéville’s The City & the City (2009), and read that one just as fast. I’ve noticed that both novels include tension caused by rules that seem to be impossible to transgress. In Embassytown, the Ariekei are unable to speak in certain ways, and in The City & the City locals of the city of Besźel and the city of Ul Qoma are—to the surprise of distant foreigners—unable to cross the border separating the two cities, even in places where the cities share parts of the same street.

In the acknowledgements section of The City & the City, Miéville mentions his indebtedness to the works of Raymond Chandler and Franz Kafka, among other authors. And on the cover of the book, a review from the Los Angeles Times mentions Philip K. Dick as a reference point in the novel’s style. While I haven’t read any Raymond Chandler yet, I’m familiar with the work of Philip K. Dick and Franz Kafka—both of which exhibit a dreadful paranoid about the mysterious workings of the world.

Another similarity between these two novels by Miéville is that both include important parts of their respective worlds which lay some sort of foundation for the main storyline. In Embassytown, the fascinating realm of “the immer”, with which space travel of great distances is made possible, is only given a cursory—though good—description. In The City & the City, the “cleaving” of the cities that happened at some point in the past, leaving behind ambiguous, confusing archeological evidence, is the other mysterious foundation.

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