The first book I’ve read that I could’ve read just for the setting. Miéville’s New Crobuzon, the city in which Perdido Street Station is set, is teeming with thousands of nooks and crannies that, on reading this book, felt like turning over suspect rocks on the beach. The city in this book is so well imagined, so perfectly laid out, and so well described. I am fairly sure that if I were pulled from my chair right now and dropped in the middle of it, I would know exactly where I was.
There is something to be said for Miéville’s world building. It is so utterly precise, sharp, evocative. For the first three-hundred pages, of what turned out to be a marathon 880 pages, I felt like a newcomer in this corrupt city. A city awash with corrosive effluent both figurative and literal.
It became apparent that this novel was a result of years of ideas, hastily scrawled into several notebooks and then refined. It is plain to see that Miéville has taken influence from Lovecraft, his description of a civilization squalid, rotten, yet surviving smacks of that inspiration.
I won’t lie when I say that more than once I turned to a dictionary to understand some of the passages in which Miéville drops a word that I have to know the meaning of. I could give you the whole list, but I won’t, terms such as; detumescence, palimpsest, and obstreperous. It feels almost as though the author had to turn to the thesaurus more than once, but further research into Miéville reveals the academic clout to use those words without distracting from the text. He writes with apparent authority on most subjects.
The highly descriptive prose does slow the story down somewhat, in once place especially I believe it detracts from what had the potential to be one of the tensest pieces of action I have read. But it is hard to ask everything from a book that is so filled with genuine intelligence and fantastic ideas. It takes a great author to convince me that a bunch of cactus people, living in a massive greenhouse in the middle of a city is an entirely normal occurrence.
The characters are interesting for the most part, though there are a few superfluous characters I honestly think the book would be better without. What makes the characters more interesting than the superhuman, magic wielding, ‘the ones’ we see so often in speculative fiction is that they’re all normal people, with more-or-less normal jobs. The main character Isaac is overweight and wrapped up in himself, this makes him no less interesting than a heavily muscled knight in a cape made from the souls of all of the giant rats he has slain. In fact, it may make him more so, along with an impressive cast of characters Perdido Street Station leaves little to be desired.
The plot is straightforward enough, but the way it’s handled is superb. I felt physically invested in the book; I cringed in horror at points; felt genuinely depressed, and believe me Perdido Street Station will depress you; and left me hopeful for character’s futures.
I’d recommend this to anyone who likes speculative fiction, but also to those who enjoy reading on a whole. Miéville is keen to attract readers from outside the genre. I can see why, his playfulness with the limitations of genre means that it contains so much more than you would originally think when glancing at it in the Sci-fi and Fantasy section of your local bookshop.
Any readers of Perdido Street Station out there, what did you think of the novel? Does it deserve its praise? Or did you struggle to see what the hype was about? Leave a comment and let me know.