This Census-Taker by China Miéville
Jan. 2016. 208p. Del Rey, hardcover, $24 (9781101967324).
REVIEW. First published December 15, 2015 (Booklist).
Mieville is back with an ominous, thought provoking fairy tale for adults, narrated by an unnamed man as he looks back on the pivotal weeks during his ninth year when his mother disappeared under nefarious circumstances. At it’s heart, this is the story of how a scared, confused boy took the first steps that led him to his current adult life. The descriptions of the world in which the novella takes place and the characters involved in the action (both in the past and present) are purposely vague, but this narrative choice gives the story a magical feel, leaving us questioning how much we are supposed to believe. It also captivates, giving us glimpses of cities ravaged by decades of war, mysterious keys that might do dangerous things, many missing persons, and most strikingly, a very deep hole. While many questions will still remain once the final page is turned, answers are not why you read this tale. Rather, Mieville is offering us the opportunity to contemplate our own adult lives and question what led us to where we find ourselves today presented in the form of a compelling and fascinating book that begs to be read in a sitting or two. Fans of Mieville will enjoy seeing some of the ideas he contemplated in regards to place and boundaries in the award-winning The City & The City poking through here. Comparisons to Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane are inevitable, but this novella more closely resembles the narrative style, quirkiness, and plotting found in the works of Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, or Steven Millhauser.
Three Words That Describe This Book: mysterious, open ended, thought-provoking
Readalikes: Mieville is the reigning king of the New Weird. Another master of this emerging genre is Jeff Vandermeer. HIs Southern Reach Trilogy is a great readalike. I read Annihilation and wrote a review here. At that link I have many more readalikes suggestions. Both This Census Taker and Annihilation can be read in a sitting or two.