With 10 days to go until the release of New Year’s Eve, I decided to post every day about an influence on the novel.
In this countdown so far, I have only spoken about psychological thrillers and murder mysteries. Only Rosemary’s Baby, a horror novel, wouldn’t sit on the same bookshelf.
And yet I don’t think genres should work in isolation. They should open their arms to each other, inspire each other. To stretch this metaphor to breaking point–genres should marry and have babies, too.
I personally try to read (and write) as widely as possible. When I am not consuming thrillers, I will often be picking up literary novels (although I hate the name), science fiction and fantasy.
And it is a piece of speculative fiction – albeit one dressed in the clothing of a noir- which is the topic of today’s post. It is written by one of my favourite authors working today- China Mieville- and it is one of his most popular works.
I am speaking, of course, of The City and the City.
This masterpiece takes place in Bezel, an imaginary city divided into two areas: an affluent neighbourhood and one far more down-at-heel. But these areas of the city are actually geographically in the same locations, and the division is a purely conceptual one. From birth, inhabitants are trained to only see, hear and interact with half of the population and half of the city.
It’s a big and weighty premise and, in a society as entrenched in class divisions as Britain, it has a particular resonance. There is so much to unpick in the novel about how our social contexts affect every part of our lives, even down to what we see and hear. I wanted New Year’s Eve to tell the story of someone grappling with social mobility, with the idea that class is ingrained into our social fabric. The City and the City encouraged me to lean into the idea as much as I did.
Mainly, however, I wanted New Year’s Eve to be readable and fun. Luckily, The City and the City provides a template for that too.
Because it is, at its heart, a crime novel.
Mieville uses the narrative structure of an American Noir, borrowing from Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammitt, and the result is as gripping as it is meaningful. There is a dead body on the first page, and the main character is a detective who is hired to investigate the murder. If the science-fiction aspects of the novel give it political resonance, it is the thriller aspects of the novel which give it narrative drive. I find the book breathlessly exciting as a result.
The City and the City is a beautiful hybrid; one of those rare cases where a novel delivers on the expectations of two completely different genres. To return to my overstretched metaphor one last time… it’s one hell of a beautiful baby.