Contented Reader

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Book review: Perdido Street Station

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Perdido Street Station

China Miéville

Del Rey Books

China Miéville.  I have no idea how to pronounce his name.  I can’t even spell it on my keyboard, without special characters.  And I’d been avoiding him, because I heard that his writing was highly literary, complex, dense, and hard to read.

And it is, sort of.  Not as difficult as I expected- Miéville is literary, but he isn’t James Joyce, just a writer whose prose is more highly stylized than many people writing science fiction and fantasy.  I want to call this book ‘urban fantasy,’ since it’s fantastic and its urban setting is central to the book, but I can’t use the phrase ‘urban fantasy’ without loudly clarifying, ‘but I don’t mean it’s anything like Jim Butcher.’

The city, New Crobuzon, is the point of the book.  Yes, the plot is exciting, and the characters are interesting, and yes, I did want to know what would happen next with the bug-lady’s spit sculpture and the giant mysterious caterpillar and the crisis engine.  But the reason to read Perdido Street Station is to explore the amazingly rich environs of New Crobuzon.  I don’t think I’ve read a book since The Lord of the Rings that was as much about its setting as this one is.  This city seems more real to me right now, closing this book, than Paris does.  What an astonishing thing this book is.  Miéville somehow imagined a city that is almost wholly different from any real city, and yet has elements that are strangely familiar.  It’s a little like Victorian London, and a little like Bangkok, and a little like the Mos Eisley Cantina.  The city is populated by people and creatures (and many of the creatures are people) that we can only glimpse and wonder about, and others that are brought vividly to life.  Miéville guides us around New Crobuzon like a knowledgeable tour guide, but one who isn’t overconcerned with our safety.  Reading this book, I felt that there was a real danger that I might be mugged.  And that I’d be lucky if that was the worst thing that happened.

So.  Literary?  Definitely.  Dense?  Complex?  Absolutely.  But the city of New Crobuzon is dense and complex, and it wouldn’t be describable in any other kind of language.  Hard to read?  No.  Not hard.  I had to take my time, and let Miéville teach me how to read this book, but doing that, I had no trouble understanding.

Worth the effort?  Oh hell yes.

I know, all the rest of you discovered this book when it came out in 2000, and now you’re chuckling at me for being so tardy in discovering it.  Yes, yes, you’re all smarter and more well-read than I am.  Good for you.


Written by Contented Reader

July 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Reviews


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