The City & The City, China Miéville


The Next Book is: The City & The City
The Author is: China Miéville
Here is a link to a review/synopsis:
The meeting date/time will be: June 20, 6:00-8:00
The meeting location will be: Stan & Laura’s (coronavirus permitting, otherwise online)


The city is Beszel, a rundown metropolis on the eastern edge of Europe. The other city is Ul Qoma, a modern Eastern European boomtown, despite being a bit of an international pariah. What the two cities share, and what they don’t, is the deliciously evocative conundrum at the heart of China Mieville’s The City & The City . Mieville is well known as a modern fantasist (and urbanist), but from book to book he’s tried on different genres, and here he’s fully hard-boiled, stripping down to a seen-it-all detective’s voice that’s wonderfully appropriate for this story of seen and unseen. His detective is Inspector Tyador Borlu, a cop in Beszel whose investigation of the murder of a young foreign woman takes him back and forth across the highly policed border to Ul Qoma to uncover a crime that threatens the delicate balance between the cities and, perhaps more so, Borlu’s own dissolving sense of identity. In his tale of two cities, Mieville creates a world both fantastic and unsettlingly familiar, whose mysteries don’t end with the solution of a murder.

A good set of discussion questions.

  1. Mieville provides no overall exposition in this book, leaving it up to readers to piece together the strange co-existence of Beszel and Ul Qoma. Do you appreciate the way in which the story gradually unfolds? Or, finding it confusing, would you have preferred an explanation early on?

  2. Many critics and readers—but not all—have talked about Mieville’s imagined world, a world constructed so thoroughly that readers were easily absorbed in the two cities. Was that your experience as you read the book…or were you unable to suspend your belief, finding the whole foundation too preposterous?

  3. What does it mean to “unsee” in this novel…and what are the symbolic implications of unseeing? In other words, do we “unsee” one another in our own lives? Who unsees whom?

  4. Talk about the absurdities that result from the two cities ignoring one another’s existence—for instance, the rules put in place for picking up street trash.

  5. What theory was the murdered graduate student investigating and what makes Borlu begin to think the theory is more than just theory—that it might be closer to truth?

  6. Do you feel Mieville’s characters are well developed in this work…or under-developed? Defend your answer…to the death. What about the book’s dialogue? Does it sound realistic—the way individuals actually converse? Or do you find it stilted, tiresome…or perhaps overly ambitious? Does it matter?

  7. Point out some of the strange word-usage Mieville incorporates in The City and the City : words/phrases like… crosshatching, grosstopically, the alter, and so on.

  8. What is the “Breach” and why it’s required to maintain control over the two populations? What does the Breach suggest about authoritarianism in general—its origins, purpose, enforcement, corruption…?

  9. Was the crime/mystery solved to your satisfaction by the end of the book? Was the crime the book’s central focus…or tangential? If the latter, what was the real focus?

  10. Have you read other works by Mieville? If so, how does this compare? If not, are you inspired to read more of his books?

I find a lot I agree with in this review, especially about the quality of the detective story.

There are some amusing similarities between this and Bezel/Ul Qoma. The people of Büsingen can pretend to be on either side though.