Writers Talk with China Miéville
I have two ways of looking at your career. Perdido Street Station established your core area of working, and after that you’ve been giving us the Miéville novel crossed with non-fantasy genres. The Scar was a sea/sailing/pirate story and Iron Council seems crossed with both a Western and a romance of revolution. Un Lun Dun was a Miéville children’s book. That would make The City and the City part of a series, this time Miéville crossed with crime novel. Except that it really isn’t a fantasy at all and it also reads differently for me from your other work.
The City and the City does feel like a major departure to me. It’s thematically different; the language is less baroque, more austere. The book was written as a present to my Mum, a great reader of crime novels, and so it’s faithful to the protocols of crime. The whole book is also based on political borders and looks at the logic of borders and their absurdity, and exaggerates them. Unseeing is a slight exaggeration of what we do all the time.
There was a key line for me about the hero going to a conference about policing split cities such as Jerusalem. It confirmed for me that the book was about our world, exaggerated. In some ways it felt like a satire.
A caveat on that line about split cities. I acknowledge that there will be political or metaphoric readings of the book. But the character who speaks next says that those cities (in the quote) are nothing like ours (Beszel and Ul Qoma). I hope that the ramifications are occurring to readers, but I abjure narrowly reductive metaphorical readings. The two overlaid cities have to have a reality of their own or the novel becomes an allegory, which I don’t like. The fantastic in fiction walks a fine line between being reducible to a metaphor and having a belief in its own reality.
What also impressed me was how well it does work as a crime novel, a real murder mystery but set in a fictionalized city.
It’s a very straight crime novel; it obeys the rules of a police procedural with an almost camp fidelity. It’s in three sections, one in each of the two overlaid cities, and then a third. The first section is straight out of Inspector Lindley with the detective and his female sidekick. The second section is 48 Hours and is a buddy-cop story and the third section is a political conspiracy thriller. It’s still a straight crime novel which some crime readers have read and enjoyed as a crime novel.
There is a generic resentment against people who come in from outside and are clodhopping, bumping into the furniture. But if someone comes in and is respectful, people are delighted. I wanted to be someone who came into the crime genre, knew what had gone before and was respectful. I read a huge number of crime novels before writing this.