Thursday 7 April 2016

Review - This Census-Taker by China Mieville


China Mieville returns with yet another different book. This one a novella. It is extraordinary (being both remarkable AND unusual)

The narrator is less than reliable, in identity, in time, in tense, in age...

A boy ran down a hill path screaming. The boy was I ... He was nine years old, I think, and this was the fastest he'd ever run, and he stumbled and careered and it seemed many times as if he would fall into the rocks and gorse that surrounded the footpath, but I kept my feet and descended into the shadow of my hill.

This uncertainty in perception runs through the book. It opens with the boy telling the people in the village that his mother has killed his father, or was it that his father killed his mother? The narrative is built upon shifting sand and with each page Mieville poses a new question. But then answers each with ambiguity. This could, in lesser hands, be terribly unsatisfying but Mieville pulls it off with a flourish. It is all misdirection, all illusion, none of it is misdirection, none of it is illusion.

Why 'this' census taker? Who are the census takers and what are they taking censuses for? There are hints and prompts for supposition but there are no easy answers. I expect that this is the type of book that you have to read several times to fully experience, and that is either a masterpiece or not worth the effort - depending upon your point of view.

With well-written books you get the impression that the book is only the visible part of a larger body, like an iceberg. With this book Mieville has obfuscated the visible part and you are left with glimpses of a much larger world, through a foggy lens. It is a masterfully crafted puzzle box that ends on an acrostic. The meaning of which is just another hint, another question, another mist-shrouded viewpoint that makes you wonder, makes you question, makes you want to read it again.

A boy ran down a hill path screaming...

Overall - Mieville fans will have scooped this up, devoured it, left satisfied and yet wanting more. Non-Mieville fans can't really exist, can they?

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