Thursday, 27 January 2011

Perdido Street Station

Some will remember my gushing praise of China Miéville in my review of The City And The City, the book that shared last year's Hugo award for best novel with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. I think I said that I'd be revisiting his work sooner rather than later and that I was looking forward to the day I did.

With good reason, as it turns out. I received Perdido Street Station for Christmas and, after finishing a couple of (much) shorter books in the early days of the month I finally sat down to work my way through the 867 pages of it the other Sunday. From the off, I was captivated.

The writing is superb. Miéville paints his world with florid prose that flows with the smoothness of melted chocolate. The world revealed is a place of wonder, vivid and colourful and grotesque. And the fluency is what makes it stand out. It's so easy to read about, even though the language can be high-flown and perhaps beyond more than a few readers. But for yours truly, it was a joy to read writing bursting with originality, with a fluent, easy style. However, I can see an argument that some may make that it's overwritten and bloated by purple prose throughout - I just happen to disagree.

The story of Perdido Street Station focuses on a group of dilettantes, including an artist, a renegade underground journalist and a freelance scientist. From humble beginnings, where a garuda - a winged hunter of the lands away from New Crobuzon, the steampunk city where the book is set - approaches Isaac, the scientist, with a request, the plot picks up pace and scale with the introduction of the inhuman primary antagonists. The oppressive government and militia become involved, along with underworld gangsters and hyperintelligent giant steampunk constructs.

With a novel of this scale, with the grand ideas and spectacular set-pieces, it would be easy for Miéville to have lost sight of his characters on occasion, and it's not an unreasonable accusation to make on rare occasions. However, by and large, the characters remain human (ish), with real emotions and motivations. Isaac and Lin in particular, with their cross-species romance, are always characters I could connect with in their personal struggles. These struggles combined with the overall grand scheme of the plot make for compelling reading throughout

Perdido Street Station is surreal at all times. In the steampunk world, higher forces exist that help to make this more a fantasy novel than SF. The ideas combine with an unorthodox grace in the grotesque world of New Crobuzon. With a less skilled hand, the whole world could easily have collapsed under the weight of phantasmagorical ideas on the brassy frame of steampunk, but Miéville manages to balance it all out quite nicely.

One thing I will say is that at 867 pages this is not a light read. It takes some time and commitment, and as such isn't generally on the highly-recommended list for busy LLB Bar Exempting students. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed it cover to cover, and will be picking up the sequel, The Scar, in due course.

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