Friday, April 29, 2016

2010 Hugo Winner - The City and the City

China MiƩville
Completed 4/19/2013, reviewed 4/19/2013
3 stars

The City and the City is about a pair of amazingly constructed cities.  While they are two separate cities, both of them occupy some of the same physical space.  In some places, there are parts of one city totally existing in the other.  The citizens of the two cities must “unsee” the other city.  This separation is kept in place by Breach, an organization which makes sure the two cities are kept mentally separate by their citizens.  In addition, there are strict rules about crossing the borders of the two cities, even though separation is not purely physical. 

The plot surrounds the murder of a woman and may involve a breach.  The investigation of the murder brings in the theory that there may be a third city, which is hiding in between the two cities, i.e., it appears to one city’s citizens as part of the other city, and vice versa.  Thus it exists in plain sight, but the citizens of each city ignore it thinking it is part of the other city. 

This premise is awesome.  I began the book, voraciously waiting for the descriptions of the cities’ separation and its social implications.  I was even more drawn in by the “secret city.”  I was most excited when the details of the conspiracy of keeping the third city secret were revealed, and when they related to the unfolding of the plot.

Unfortunately, I found the plot eventually unsatisfying.  It turned out to be just another detective potboiler.  The great revelations about all three cities took place in the course of the book.  Somehow, I was hoping that there would be something more earthshattering about three cities in the solving of the murder.  But there wasn’t.

I also found the dialogue very often to be choppy.  Maybe I just don’t read enough noir.  I felt that dialogues were hard to follow.  I was happiest reading the descriptions and long revelatory dialogues about the cities. 

SPOILER ALERT 1: I also didn’t like the last minute pulling in of the corporations as part of the conspiracy.  They were not part of the story.  They felt introduced merely to throw you off before the big reveal of the actual murder.  It almost felt like a mechanism for making the story longer.

SPOILER ALERT 2:  I had a hard time with the ending.  It’s revealed that the only thing that keeps the two cities separate is the belief by their citizens that they personally must keep them separate.  The organization known as Breach can only exist because the citizens need them to exist to keep up the charade of separation.  However, the story is told in first person by the main character.  In the end, he becomes part of Breach.  So in his telling of the story, he creates his own breach by revealing the fallacy of the realness of the separation.  The existence of the story by Breach is a breach.  It brings to the citizens’ consciousness that there is no real separation, beginning the destruction of the separation.  This is a contradiction.  Breach should censor the breach and not allow us to read the book. 

I gave the book three stars for the inventiveness of the universe created and for the advancement of the plot through the first 2/3s of the book.  

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