This month’s Feature Article will be examining China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, a work that I found immense in scope, imagination and flaws. Perhaps an appropriate description of Mieville’s novel, befitting of his themes, is that he belched forth a monumental novel, warts and all. This is not a perfect book. Arguably, it is too long and at times tediously descriptive, and there comes a point when you become numb to yet another passage detailing New Crobuzon’s filth and decay. Furthermore, walking the reader through every street and neighborhood of New Crobuzon as if they were holding a map or were intimate with the city was too much, leaving the reader with less rather than more. Since Mieville provided so much information, any hope of taking it all in gets lost in the volume. Actually, as I read, I started to wonder if the work didn’t require a second reading to absorb it all, but I’m not sure the plot is strong enough to bear up to a second reading.
So what was right with the work? The first one-hundred pages were incredible. Yes, the action was subdued, but the descriptive squalor of New Crobuzon is wonderfully done at the opening of the novel, before Mieville finally wears the reader out with it. In addition, the initial introduction to the denizens that inhabit the city is refreshingly unique, and while it was a little disturbing imagining the mixed species pair of Isaac and Lin as lovers, it was impossible not to like them both, and I enjoyed the slower paced introduction as the reader was taken on a tour of New Crobuzon with them.
Unfortunately, the story had to start after the first one-hundred or so pages, and it devolves into a basic monster chase that never quite gives the reader enough emotional attachment to care what happens to the pitiful citizens of New Crobuzon, or to the authoritarian government and industrialists running the show. After so much squalor, there isn’t any sympathy for the oppressed citizens, either, since it seems as if they are mercifully being put out of the misery when their killed by the slake-moths.
In addition to the opening, I found the ending to be perfectly dystopian. I’m not sure which was more disturbing, the beginning scenes with Isaac and Lin, or the ending scenes with them. I won’t give the ending away here other than to say that it fit with the mood and themes Mieville spent eight-hundred pages penning. It was almost as if we had the story of Isaac and Lin interrupted with the monster chase, only to be finished in brilliantly dystopian fashion.
I would like to comment on the Deus ex Machina. First, the Weaver was a god, so from the point of him saving the protagonist from impending death, at least it was literal. Secondly, the mayor approached the Weaver in a desperate attempt to help save New Crobuzon, to which the Weaver agreed. What was not determined, however, was how the Weaver would help. I was neither surprised nor upset when this plot device entered the story.
So in conclusion, Mieville’s myriad of subplots and threads that are never quite finished does reveal an incredible imagination, and it is fortunate that his imaginative wanderings are so good or the novel would collapse in a mish-mash of garbage, much like the city of New Crobuzon itself. I think in this case, Perdido Street Station, is a classic example of where less would have been more. With a tightening of the plot, the cutting of a few threads regardless of how imaginative they were, and a little less description of the city during the latter half of the book, Mieville would have written an epic book rather than just a good to great book.