Our monthly Book Club convened yesterday to discuss China Miéville’s new novel, The City & The City. It’s a detective story set in Beszél and Ul Qoma, two fictional, Eastern European city-states that exist in the same physical space, but whose inhabitants are careful only to interact with their fellow citizens. That means, for starters, that the Besz and Ul Qoman locals must constantly “unsee” and “unhear” one another, even if they’re walking down the same street at the same time.
Confused yet? That’s OK—so were we. The intertwined nature of the two cities makes for some surprising twists on the standard police procedural, but we would have appreciated a bit more background to flesh out Miéville’s fictional world.
That being said, there was plenty in the novel to spark a fascinating discussion. Take “unseeing,” for example. We had some trouble understanding how Miéville’s characters could stand just inches apart without seeing or hearing the people right in front of their faces, but a few Book Club participants pointed out that we do something similar every day. Whether we’re ignoring our neighbors, stepping over the homeless, or just trying not to make eye contact with the crazy guy in the subway, we all construct our own cities and “unsee” people who don’t belong in them.
As always, this month’s Book Club was an eye-opener and a great way to spend my lunch break. I’m continually impressed by the insights of my fellow members, and I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks of next month’s book—Brooklyn, a new novel by the Irish author Colm Tóibín.