mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Perdido perditum

Finished Perdido Street Station. Conclude that probably I should just leave male writers alone; but still... Mieville does do something really really interesting. He describes squalor and rot and decaying buildings in passage after passage and it never gets old. Even more: all this celebration of decay ought to read purple and overdone and vaguely silly. It doesn't: and that puts him one up, right there, on any decadent aesthete or decadent horror writer I can think of.

He also does a trick with mirrors, or at least I think that's what it is. I can't make any coherent geographical sense of his city but I fancy I'm not supposed to. He's talking about it the way he talks about London in the short stories: casual passing mention of neighbourhoods and areas that mean something to an inhabitant but that an outsider can't follow without a map. There are maps of London; there are none of New Crobuzon. It doesn't matter. The many many neighbourhoods of the city have a fleetingly concrete existence as the characters travel through them, the way the parts of a foreign city generally do when a non-inhabitant hears them mentioned. Lambeth, Ealing, Hounslow, Bexley mean nothing to me; Kensington Market, the Danforth, Rosedale and Forest Hill mean nothing to you; but one knows they do to someone. Mieville's city makes sense to his narrator, who avoids the twin pitfalls of either drawing too detailed diagrams for outsiders, which proves that he's an outsider too; or of being too laconic and in-passing with his references in a clumsy attempt to recreate the casualness of a real inhabitant. This makes the place feel real, aside from a vague bemusement as to how a city continues to function when, by his account, a good 90% of it seems on the point of collapse.

But about those collapsing buildings: in fact, about all his buildings. I got to the bit where they're all headed towards Perdido Street Station, climbing across roofs I believe, and I became suspicious. He's giving me what sound like detailed descriptions of the architectural landscape they're going over, and I can't see it at all. Buildings here don't *do* what his building do. I don't think buildings in Europe even do that. He's getting his actual landscapes from some other source entirely than here-and-now pulled sideways, which is the trick he uses for his city structure. Graphic novels? or something he can see and I can't? It felt a bit like reading Tolkien's landscapes, which generally don't mean much to the city-child over here, but that are obviously grounded in a something very real to Tolkien. I'm just not sure that Mieville's seeing the landscape he describes or if he's jiggery-pokerying.

As for the human landscape- oh well. I felt while reading that it's very much a young man's book. Emphasis on the *young* and *man* in about equal quantity. Focus on the guys, or rather guy, and don't quite get that women do have an existence separate from them. Isaac is an unlikable ineffectual incompetent but he's supposed to be special in ways Miveille never made clear to me but that most characters acknowledge at once. Here's a city where bodies can be reshaped in any way one pleases; who does our birdman go to to get his wings from? Not anyone in the field for sure. Fighters and soldiers stronger, steadier, cooler and better trained than Isaac screw up all of a sudden and get themselves killed, usually because their timing is wrong (which I have trouble believing) but Isaac survives similar attacks on sheer luck. Isaac is walking tits on a bull-- you could do a drinking game: swig once for every time Isaac says 'We've got to do something!'; swig twice for every time Isaac says 'We've got to get out of here!'; swig three times for every time someone tells Isaac 'We've got to get out of here!' and Isaac bumbles about *not* getting out of here and/or stopping to look back at things that will kill him if he looks at them. Yet people brighter and cleverer than he are hoping Isaac will save them from the danger that menaces the city. Err- why? And oh dear sweet god but his dialogue is third rate Awful. That was really what made me want to slap him, and hard. All we need to make this a totally Pynchonian character is to have attractive women falling hard for Isaac's flabby paunchy charms. At least Mieville sidesteps that only too obvious trap.

I wish he'd made any of his characters at all likable, but he didn't. I *was* rooting for the birdman and then even that got pulled out from under me. Maybe the pustulent human/ sentient landscape is supposed to mirror the pustulent physical one, but in the end Isaac and his friends are small and mean, not grandly squalid the way the city is. And really, why read 750 pages about people that we aren't supposed to like in the first place, if they have no saving graces or saving vices to speak of?
Tags: reading_07

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