The City and The Writer

41uiqd13dyl_sl500_aa240_So there I was, smack in the middle of the kind of plot problems that come when you’ve written a complicated first draft through some really difficult times, when the ever-clever Rick Kleffel asks me to talk into a microphone for him. He was doing an NPR piece for All Things Considered about a pair of crime novels: A Manual of Detection by Jedediah Barry, and The City and The City, by China Miéville. (He’s also stashed the podcast on his Agony Column, here. )

I hadn’t read the second of those books, but as we were taping, Rick made it sound so great I went out and bought one. Maybe it would take my mind off my difficulties. Maybe it would give me something to steal.

And although I have an entire bookshelf laden with novels for the Best Paperback Edgar committee that I have to read, that is work and this wasn’t, sort of. So I opened it up. And all I can say is, if you’re flailing about in an intractable rewrite, this isn’t the book you need.

A police procedural set in an alternative-universe city, beautifully, seamlessly, effortlessly created.

You read on, and on, waiting for him to put his foot wrong and knock you out of the dream, because it’s too implausible for words only it’s flat-out real, with the plot and the characters and the setting wrapped around each other like one of those Celtic designs.


A book so bloody brilliant it would make me want to burn my laptop even if things had been going smoothly.

You have to go out and buy a copy, and read it and then give it to all your friends.

Except maybe if you’re struggling with plot problems yourself. In which case, buy it and put it on a shelf.

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  1. Erin on July 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Wow…what a stellar review! I keep seeing this book around, but I’ve been skirting it because I tried to read Perdido Street Station and just couldn’t get into it. Too much world building for me. With a recommendation like the one you just gave, however, I think I will have to actually stop and pick it up next time I see it 🙂

  2. Roxanne on July 30, 2009 at 5:14 am


    You are an excellent wordsmith. You imbue your books with the sights and scents of the Earth’s different worlds. Just be yourself. That is what we like and all we want.

    Sounds like you need a break. A little quiet time with sun and a cool breeze and a deck chair and a cold drink. Or two.


  3. annburns on July 31, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Having just finished reading Language of Bees, I know you will work your rewrite magic on your new book, Laurie. All the work you put into writing a book (which you have been so generous to share with us all here) sadly remains unknown to the reader – it simply shows as a seamless wonderful tale with hints of more to come. And masterfully coping with all the backstory without boring or assuming prior knowledge. As Bertie Wooster once said – the hardest part in telling a story.


  4. Barbara Ottley on October 12, 2009 at 11:56 am

    OK, I bought it and read it, and was amazed. I will try some more of his – but only while I am waiting for you!

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