This book... oh dear. It's quite good and it's very hard to explain. What starts off seeming like a noir-ish crime novel or police procedural opens up and allows the reader to sort of play with what's happening in the reality of the story. Two city-states, somewhere in Europe, live within each other. Citizens from one are not allowed to "see" the citizens from the other - even if they're on the same street! It's not like Berlin used to be. There's no wall, just a map and laws and a history of strife between the two cities.
So is it fantasy, or is it a meditation on our current cities, where we go around "unseeing" all sorts of things? Miéville leaves this question wide open for the reader. I started to think about all of the ways we divide ourselves in our cities and how the entire novel could be a metaphor for things like race, class, religion, politics, you name it. Everywhere in real life, there are places some people go and places other people don't. There are things we see - even celebrate - and other things we pretend not to see, and put out of mind almost automatically. We're very good at dividing ourselves up in so many ways. Citizens in one city know not to tread on "the other city."
The book takes us into a mystery about the cities themselves, all while continuing along the crime narrative. It's sort of brilliant, and very different from any other book I've read before. It's fantastical, but it could be quite realistic. I have to wonder, once again, why some authors (Miéville, Neil Gaiman, even Stephen King) are not even considered in these lists of "important" books. King appears sometimes, but far too often I think these writers tend to be shunted off into "genre writing" and hence considered simply not worthy of being noted by certain publications and literary circles. I'd love someone to tell me why this book is somehow less inventive/important than Thomas Hardy's 8th or 10th book? (Not just Hardy - I'm thinking now of those lists of books that have changed or disrupted the novel's form or literary prizes that always seem to go to the same people or if they go to a newcomer, we're told it's because the book is somehow inventive. I've read the most recent Pulitzer. I liked it, but it wasn't more inventive than this one.) When I read a book like this one, all I see is invention and imagination and certainly breaking the usual laws of novels.
I've tried to read The City & The City before and was distracted by work and life. I'm thrilled I finally found the right time for me and this book because it is fantastic - in every sense of the word.