Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville

9781101967324_custom-fa940b19a5a5843977bbd12161bae478c78f706c-s300-c85

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“In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a profoundly traumatic event. He tries—and fails—to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape.

When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over.

But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend? Enemy? Or something else altogether?

Filled with beauty, terror, and strangeness, This Census-Taker is a poignant and riveting exploration of memory and identity.”

I’ve read and loved Miéville’s Kraken and Railsea, and started reading Un Lun Dun a few times (I have a terrible attention span for books longer than 250-300 pages), and one thing I love about his work is the particular attention to detail when it comes to the setting. In some stories more than others the setting is a crucial character and in all it seems that it is an essential part of what makes his stories unique. I bought this book on a holiday and read about half of it on the flight home. It’s the shortest work of his I’ve read (by quite a significant amount) and it was good to get through one of his stories in a short span of time. However, the fantasy and action which made his other books so exciting were completely stripped back in This Census-Taker. Here, we have a family up in the mountainside a hike away from the local village. There is a mystery about the father figure after the mother vanishes without a trace. The narrative is firmly planted on unstable ground and explores the narrative of the boy, the secrets of the father, and the titular Census-Taker’s quest for information and objective truth. Miéville expresses more linguistic creativity in this work than the others I have read, leading the puzzle to wind around poetic language embedded in cryptic storytelling. In this sense, it reminded me a little of Blake Butler’s There Is No Year. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this book for the majority of my reading and would probably get more out of it through a closer second reading, but I allowed myself to sink into the dream-like prose, and by the end Miéville sunk his hooks into the story and pulled it right back into a place I would call satisfaction. Not my favourite book of his, but definitely worth the read. I really enjoyed the departure of style in order to capture something quite unique.

Next Week’s Review: If You Died Tomorrow I Would Eat Your Corpse by Wrath James White

Last Week’s Review: Polymer by Caleb Wilson

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