Friday, May 29, 2009


More about The City & the City.

Miéville on the nature of the cities and the sense of dislocation that accompanies detective stories, for their holes — not flaws — in logic:

"Deep inside the town open up, so to speak, double streets, doppelganger streets, mendacious, and delusive streets."
— from The Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz.

(I read The Street of Crocodiles a couple years ago. It's rather surreal. And it's not surprising that it be referenced by Miéville.)

I have a special fondness for writers who use this word (and Miéville does) — machicolation — because it's a word I encountered and that stumped me in the spelling bee in grade 11, when I was asked at the last minute (well, with about 10 minutes to spare) to represent the school in a regional contest, and I don't think we even had rules regarding definitions and etymology, but I surmised the reader was mispronouncing "matriculation," which was the only word I knew that sounded remotely close to what I was hearing. Of course, I know exactly what it is now.

Miéville does some interesting tricks with vocabulary. Besźel and Ul Qoma each have their own language; words are also borrowed from English. At some point I half-expected this book to have a Clockwork Orange–like glossary of terms (which novel I read through without having realized there was a glossary, relying on my own sense of Polish to understand the Slavic-based argot), but the neologisms, however clever, were also very natural in context — no glossary required.

Some reviews and comments are up at Library Thing. I'm a bit concerned now that my own comments may spoil the discovery of the grand conceit for readers. Even though the condition of the cities, their relationship, is suggested in the descriptions and through word choice early on, it is only gradually revealed. But it is for the most part laid out within the "beginning" section of the book (although even at book's end, not entirely clear).

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