No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

2011/38: Kraken -- China Mieville

Of course, they're all over, gods are. Theurgic vermin, those once worshipped or still worshipped in secret, those half worshipped, those feared and resented, petty divinities: they infect everybloodywhere. The ecosystems of godhead are fecund, because there're nothing and nowhere that can't generate the awe on which they graze...
The streets of London are stone synapses hardwired for worship. Walk the right or wrong way down Tooting Bec you're invoking something or other. You may not be interested in the gods of London, but they're interested in you. (p.96)

I enjoyed this much more than I've enjoyed other recent novels by China Mieville: the conjunction of London, a surreally carnival occult and sheer lexical exuberance hooked me at once.

Billy Harrow is a curator at the Natural History Museum, occasionally troubled by the distant sound of glass on stone but otherwise content: then the specimen with which he's most engaged, the giant squid, disappears from the museum.

How do you steal a squid? Who steals a squid? A cult, of course: and who better to investigate than the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit -- 'we're the bloody cult squad' -- who should really have an NCIS-style TV series of their own. Though the dialogue would probably need to be bowdlerised.

Billy, with the assistance of former Kraken-cultist Dane, finds himself in a London he was never allowed to see before: a mashup of the sublime and the ridiculous, liberally peppered with genre in-jokes (why, yes, of coursethe magician's familiar is called Tribble) and squid puns. Really. There are police-functions, summoned by burning videos of classic police shows (The Sweeney, The Professionals), who think they're the ghosts of dead policemen. There are morse-coded messages in a streetlamp's flicker, a Marxist golem, and a family photo with bonfire that brought Powers' Declare to mind. And beneath it all the age-old dispute between faith and science.

Kraken is a quintessentially London novel: the forgotten corners and improbable angles of the city, its statues and landmarks, its relationship with the river that runs through it, the sheer weight of meaning that's imbued by inhabitants past and present. It's also delightfully and deliriously playful -- not necessarily cheerful or happy, but ludic and sly and inventive.

No comments:

Post a Comment