• The City & The City

  • By: China Mieville
  • Narrated by: John Lee
  • Length: 10 hrs and 16 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (2,410 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other, real or imagined. 

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel's equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. 

With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman's secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives. 

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & The City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 2010
©2009 China Mieville (P)2009 Random House

Critic Reviews

"Daring and disturbing...Miéville illuminates fundamental and unsettling questions about culture, governance and the shadowy differences that keep us apart." (Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress

"Lots of books dabble in several genres but few manage to weld them together as seamlessly and as originally as The City and The City. In a tale set in a series of cities vertiginously layered in the same space, Miéville offers the detective novel re-envisioned through the prism of the fantastic. The result is a stunning piece of artistry that has both all the satisfactions of a good mystery and all the delight and wonder of the best fantasy.” (Brian Evenson, author of Last Days)

"Mr. Miéville's novels - seven so far - have been showered with prizes; three have won the Arthur C. Clarke award, given annually to the best science fiction novel published in Britain…. [H]e stands out from the crowd for the quality, mischievousness and erudition of his writing…. Among the many topics that bubble beneath the wild imagination at play are millennial anxiety, religious cults, the relationship between the citizen and the state and the role of fate and free will." (The New York Times)

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What listeners say about The City & The City

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Reviews, Dishonesty and The Emperor's New Clothes

From time to time, I have felt the urge to bump up a book’s rating for the wrong reasons. In fact, I now feel guilty, the urge to come clean and say a little more about it.

There were those innocent occasions when I felt that a book deserved better than I wanted to give it because I just didn’t care for the book though I recognized that others might have and it deserved “a nod.” However, there were also those other times, admittedly fewer times but times nonetheless, when I kicked a rating or two up a notch because I thought I might otherwise appear unlettered, unread or unsophisticated. Reviewers, who not only I but many others respected, might have had nothing but praise for a particular book and I knew I would appear foolish if I did not enthusiastically or passionately praise a particular book; I could not do that but I had to at least award it a decent number of stars.

It cannot compare to how foolish the feeling is now admitting to that deceit and dishonesty.

I am probably guilty of little harm or foul of significance in this forum. There are so many reviewers / reviews and I’m surprised when anyone even reads one of mine. But I also write reviews for myself. I write them in an attempt to improve my writing skills. I sometimes gain additional insight into a book by writing a review. I sometimes gain insight into myself: If I am not honest about a book, I am not being honest with myself.

My feeling about China Mieville’s The City and The City is lukewarm at best. The premise of two cities occupying virtually the same space but “unseen” by each other sounds intriguing enough but the “unseeing,” “unhearing” and yes, especially the “unsmelling” gets a tad old after awhile. Actually, it didn’t work much for me at all.

What premise that has worked for me is the one proposed by Michio Kaku in Parallel Worlds of actual parallel universes. Here is a thrilling journey into multidimensional space that requires no suspension of “unbelief.” These are cities, nay universes that might exist everywhere within centimeters of each other. And the most intriguing premise is that it might just all be true.

What I also particularly appreciated about Kaku’s work was the cosmological and even religious implications, a discussion of which by the author has the ability to bend the reader’s mind. We get little of that from Mieville. Instead, for me, the piece comes across as shallow, pulp fiction with a noir device that was not always brilliantly executed. It seems a bit smelly to me when the detective has a Columbo-esque moment and has to explain and summarize the whole crime to the audience; when all the details don’t just naturally unfold to the reader within the storyline itself. And I’m sure there were a few, maybe even several memorable quotes from the book but for the life of me, I cannot remember one.

But dang, there were all those awards the book received. What am I to do with them? Could I possibly give this book only a couple of stars? Shoot, let’s just round it up, give the damn thing 3 stars and call it good. Now that wouldn’t be dishonest, would it? I told you what I did! Yeah it would be dishonest. I really didn’t care much for this book. I read Perdido Street Station (2000) and this (tC&tC 2009) is no Perdido Street Station. Is it fair to always compare back in time to an author’s earlier work? I think that it is when much later works don’t seem to tread water, let alone get better. Sorry folks and sorry China. I just haven’t been impressed with the emperor’s newer clothes.

36 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting Premise

This is a very creative book. It doesn't really fit into any genre easily. It is a detective story, it is a political thriller, it is a bit of science fiction. It is actually none of those things and all of them at the same time. Imagine two peoples sharing the same physical space (a former eastern bloc city) yet living entirely apart - ignoring each other, pretending that the other does not exist. Then imagine a murder that seems to cross these carefully defended boundaries. That is the premise of The City & The City and it is extremely well-executed.

24 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating

Brilliant -- indeed an urban fantasy. Mieville creates an utterly plausible (sur)reality which is grounded in ordinary details. The landscape and the lexicon are fascinating, and that makes an intriguing backdrop to an otherwise fairly standard police procedural. At times the setting takes precedence, and at times the action takes precedence. There's a fine balance here which Mieville masters.

The narration is excellent. John Lee does a great job with the fictitious language and the cast of characters.

It's a book that needs a second listen in order to catch all the nuances that one misses the first time around. Well worth the listen at however many credits.

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Genre defying conspiracy fiction

Genre: Fiction,, mystery, semi-real world (On earth in a fictional geographically nonspecific European country)

Rated: PG13: A lot of cussing, no sex, some violence

Static or Dynamic: Dynamic; this is an active mystery in a society with very strange social rules that enhance and complicate the story.

1st or 3rd Person: 1st person: our chief male detective of the extreme crime squad

Abstract or Concrete: Abstract heavy. The book is placed in two countries that border each other. The citizens in each country must ignore the happenings of the other country, literally, even if they are feet away or they get black bagged by a power called Breach. The book centralizes on the theme of selective ignorance and how it has shaped the two countries that the concept revolves around. The concept is heavily present and thoroughly intriguing. I've never felt so intrigued about a story before. This is right up there with the Matrix, and V for Vendetta though it's got a much more classy feel than either of those.

Linear or Non-Linear: Linear, it's a complexly straightforward murder mystery.

Narrator: John Lee is my favorite voice actor and he did a wonderful performance reading this book. His voice captures the rich character behind our protagonist and he successfully makes the anxious moments of the story feel that way.

Plot Outline: The book might be characterized as what a cold war would physically look like in a cultural sense. Each country has vastly different politics, both reminiscent of a communist and capitalist system though that's not heavily stressed. The residents of the two cities live right next to one another but must pretend that anyone they see on the other side doesn't exist. The illustration of this is wonderfully employed when a murder in one city, has results in the other. The quest becomes tenuous as our inspector has to navigate the jurisdictional hooplah involved in the alien governments. I loved this book and have listened to it twice now. I'm sure that I will listen to it again with the same amount of entertainment. Parts of it are simply too intriguing not to poor over and other parts of it are spooky in the way that well contrived conspiracy theories can be.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

A well-realized allegory on division

The City and the City is built around a surreal but interesting premise. Somewhere in eastern Europe is a country called Beszel. Occupying the same physical space, but existing in some sort of overlapping alternate reality is another country called Ul Quma. Citizens of both lands take great pains to avoid interacting across the boundary, to the point of stopping themselves from even seeing each other. If anyone does, a shadowy, powerful organization known as Breach will take that person into custody, with dark, unknown consequences. Some people, including the graduate student whose slaying begins the book, believe in a mythical "third city", but this isn't discussed too loudly.

Within this scenario, Mieville crafts a skillful murder mystery, whose trail of clues soon leads his middle-aged detective narrator towards what appears a larger cross-border conspiracy. Mieville does a fine job of giving his two cities individual personalities, and the various factions and characters within them a gritty, urban realism. Through his careful attention to detail, it becomes easy to imagine two places (or not) where there's a colossal elephant in the room that affects everything, but no one can agree what to do about it, or even that the room would be better off without the elephant, so people find ways to unsee it. As with Orwell's Big Brother, it's unclear how much of Breach's power resides in the real world and how much of it is in citizens' minds. Sound like anything you're familiar with?

I ask that question because this is a work that requires a certain investment from readers. Without a doubt, those attempting to take this novel as straight-up science fiction or fantasy are going to be baffled and disappointed. It???s much more of a metaphorical work, akin to Kafka, whose odd alternate reality is a distorted mirror of the real world. If literary symbolism is your thing, this would be a fun one to share and ponder with a like-minded friend or two (I don???t believe the message is as straightforward as ???rich versus poor???, as some reviewers seem to think)

That said, I was a bit disappointed by the ending. It felt rushed, as though the author had decided to move on to other things, and to write the most efficient conclusion. I would have liked a little more tidying up of loose ends. Also, in comparison to Perdido Street Station, I found the tone and manner of the City and the City a bit restrained. While this is undoubtedly the more mature work, the writing and characters simply aren???t as colorful, and I missed that a little.

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • J
  • 10-31-09

Incredible, great stuff, complex

It took me a while to figure out what was going on but once you get the hang of it and hour or two in this is a wonderful, imaginative complex sci-fi detective story with great characters and superb narration. recommended

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

not for the casual listener

I'm sure this is a great book, as the reviews suggest, but I tend to listen to audiobooks while doing other things and I found that it was very easy to miss things in this recording. It seems like a dense 'read' that you need to pay attention to in order to appreciate. I usually like urban fantasy and mysteries (I love the Dresden files, for example) but I just couldn't get into this.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

What a wonderful book!

This book's main character would be right at home in a Henning Mankell or Elizabeth George noir detective novel, intense, brooding, and intelligent, it is clear that his work is the focus of his life. The book however, is very different from a classic detective novel because of the wonderful, intensely strange cities in which it is set. Without going into too much detail, which would spoil the lovely sense of discovery the reader experiences as initial confusion changes to awestruck fascination with this amazing imaginary city. The book is literate, exciting, and so amazingly creativeI I was sad to see it come to an end. and I immediately looked for everything else China Mieville has written. The reader, John Lee, also deserves kudos for bringing the book so vividly to life. First rate.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Enthralling

Very well read by John Lee, this audiobook will not only keep you interested through brilliant suspense, but will also tickle your intellect with its fascinating forays into anthropology and the power of human beings to shape themselves to fit their environment -- even when they've made that environment themselves.

Way more fun than reading Foucault, but much more interesting than your average suspense novel.

It's so full of interesting words, however, I really wish I could see how they were spelled...

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Very disappointing

I was so disappointed in this book. Its hard to believe that it was written by the same person as "Perdido Street Station" and "The Scar"! Those were both amazingly creative and imaginative books. This one really fell short.

The basic idea is that there are groups of people living right beside us who we don't see or we "un-see". Think, for example, of the homeless, or people of different colour or culture. Mr. Mieville takes this observation of human nature and tries to build a whole book around it about two different countries that live enmeshed together. They're not in different dimensions or anything like that, just that you're not allowed to look at the other guy. Maybe it would have worked for a short story, but the observation is too thin to support a whole book.

Too much of the book is taken up with describing the efforts of characters to "un-see" or "un-know" the other country. He seems to be so caught up in the the un-seeing that it seems to overwhelm the whole book and got very tiring.

The policing of this separation is "The Breach" which is a shadowing presence. There is some potential here, but he never really develops it. Everyone is terrified of Breach, but this fear seems to hang in the middle of nothing: unexplained and unbelievable. Breach turns out to be as unremarkable as the rest of the world he has created. Neither the history nor the rationale for the separation are explained.

The nominal plot is a murder mystery, but even there it falls short. The ending is abrupt and ultimately unfulfilling. Even the ending is consumed with descriptions of "un-seeing" and scandalously walking from one side of the street to the other side!

I finished the book, but I'm so very disappointed!! China Mieville was really one of my favorites, but I don't think I'll buy any more of his books.

9 people found this helpful