Book Review: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

Random thoughts for a random book. I know he is the master of weird-fi but I never expected this much weirdness. My previous dabbling with Miéville is the novelette Tis the Season (which I will read again and review closer to Christmas) so I had an idea of what to expect.

The weirdness and the fact that it throws you in at the deep end from very early on is very reminiscent of Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. However, unlike that book, the writing style is very easy on the eye – much easier than you might have expected after reading the first couple of chapters.

However in an odd way and despite the easy style, because of the weirdness it is also a difficult book to fully absorb yourself into. The world is so incredibly weird and Miéville wants to give us all of the information about New Crobuzon in this one book. Personally, I prefer how Pratchett introduces us to Discworld – over time, telling us what we need to know when we need to know it. That’s not to say that it’s poorly constructed, because it isn’t. For me it is just a case of information overload in a carefully constructed and complex world and it’s over 800 pages of it. Immersion in a new world needs to feel organic – like building a friendship or dating; this feels quite forceful – a bit like somebody you met once but found them too intense and now they won’t leave you alone.

And you go through phases where he grabs and holds your attention for 100 pages or so and then other times when you’ll struggle with it.

So what is it actually about? Well, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Certainly, the story is about the mysterious stranger and the events surrounding his arrival, the invasion of the “dreamshit” transformed larvae, and the ragtag group in whose hands the very existence of the city hangs. But this story thread seems to take so long to get going that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the book isn’t about this at all. The city is the character and I feel at times that it is the story of New Crobuzon that is the primary focus here. If you are looking for a conventional book with a conventional storyline and the conventional conventions of fiction then look elsewhere. If you are looking for a Pratchett clone for the steampunk genre… then look elsewhere. This isn’t so much a novel as it is experimental prose. If that doesn’t appeal to you then you definitely need to look elsewhere.

I did enjoy this though, really I did, but I don’t think this style is for me. I would still give it 4/5 even though I have decided (unusually) that I do not want to read any more in the series. I will certainly be exploring more of the author’s work though and look forward to reading Un Lun Dun (which is on my Kindle) and as mentioned before, I have already read Tis The Season (which I will read again in December and post a review then).

I really appreciate what Miéville was doing – it just didn’t speak to me in a big enough way that I simply must read the next one. I probably will though, but I’m not rushing out to get it.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

  1. sarahgracelogan

    Personally I think people rave about this book too much, and that the two following books in the series are much better (The Scar and Iron Council). Perdido is a book that is just weeping ideas like an open wound. You’re right in that New Crobuzon is the main character; the others all kind of pale in comparison. Character and dialogue are not Miéville’s strong point; ideas are. The Scar has some brilliant characters, and Perdido (indeed almost all his books) have great ideas for characters, but they’re often quite 2D. The word that best describes Perdido for me is turgid. It’s just rammed to bursting full of stuff. Some of it’s good, some is great, and some is just unnecessary, so at times it wanders off a bit without you.

    But, it’s so, so worth reading it in order to then go on and read The Scar and Iron Council. Much neater, tighter books, with (in my opinion) more engaging characters. The really interesting thing is that Miéville is almost better at critiquing his own work than he is at writing it in the first place. He’s a fascinating academic, and understanding his politics really well can clarify a lot of what he’s doing in his books.

    I definitely recommend reading more :) I didn’t enjoy Un Lun Dun as much, but it’s much lighter (being a YA read) and is deliberately off-kilter to the traditional expected plot-structure. I enjoy City in the City a lot – although the characters and dialogue there are VERY 2D, the incredible ideas just about make up for it.

    1. I can’t argue with anything you’ve said, I did lose attention several times only to regain it when I was about to give up.

      Perhaps I will read the others in the series then, thanks for the recommendation!

      1. sarahgracelogan

        I’d give it a break, let yourself recover, but yeah The Scar at least is well worth a read :D

        I think the book of his I’ve enjoyed least was Embassytown. Again, ideas-wise, it’s incredible. It’s all focused on the idea of language =/= cognition and other stuff revolving around language and understanding … just awesome, and right up my street, but the characters are totally flat.

      2. Oh believe me there was no way I was going to dive straight into the next one! I have some books that have been sat on my shelf for the last 2 years. Need to get that reading pile down!

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