Review of THIS CENSUS-TAKER by China Mieville
Del Rey, January 2016
The boy lives on the outskirts of town, his father creating ‘keys’ that somehow unlock problems for the villagers while his mother works on her garden. Then, one day, things change. Violence… his mother attacked his father, or perhaps it is the other way around, the boy cannot clearly explain, even to himself. He does know that he fears his father, a man who is generally kind but who, sometimes, kills animals, striking them over and over, then dumping them in a deep chasm. Is that what happened to his mother? Is that what happens to some of those who come to get a key?Author China Mieville (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Mieville) creates a weird world, weirdly written, with characters who don’t fit into any established novel format. It’s an intriguing attempt and hard to put down. The boy’s suffering, his doomed attempts to run away, to find some sort of salvation with the other children of the village, and his fear of his father, even for his father, are compelling. As a fan of Mieville, I think he’s earned the right to do some experimental writing. Certainly many of his novels break boundaries, leave me (and other readers) scratching their heads, trying to figure out what is going on, how the pieces fit together. Yet I felt as if there were pieces missing in THIS CENSUS-TAKER, as if, perhaps, this was written as a sketchbook in which Mieville worked out the background for some other story and then couldn’t quite put it away.
If you’re a China Mieville fan, as I am, you’ll definitely want to read this. If you’re not, I really don’t recommend starting here.
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