The tal­ly­man cometh...

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

re­leased 25 Fe­bru­ary 160 pages | Hard­back/ ebook

Au­thor China Miéville

Pub­lisher Pi­cador

How re­li­able are our mem­o­ries? We think of the life we re­call as a chain of events to be trusted. Yet neu­ro­science teaches us that we con­struct the past from a com­bi­na­tion of our own per­cep­tions, the sto­ries we’re told and old photographs. The idea of ask­ing what re­ally hap­pened is deeply prob­lem­atic – who’s to say?

That’s nowhere more acute than when look­ing back at trau­matic child­hood events, the kind of hap­pen­ings that un­der­pin China Miéville’s un­set­tling new novella. It tells the story of a boy who, liv­ing in up­land iso­la­tion with his fam­ily, wit­nesses some­thing ter­ri­ble. He fears his fa­ther, a “key- maker” whom, the boy con­cludes, is a killer, con­cerned with “feed­ing only the dark­ness”.

As to the pur­pose of the keys, that’s un­clear. Sim­i­larly, we’re never pre­cisely told why the boy’s fa­ther might be vi­o­lent. The “dark­ness” is rep­re­sented by a hole in a cave so deep that any­thing dis­posed of there is lost for­ever.

Es­cape for the boy is rep­re­sented by the ap­pear­ance of a stranger, a “cen­sus- taker”. All of this is re­lated by the boy’s el­der self. He’s a record keeper him­self, but even so his nar­ra­tive is frac­tured.

What does all this mean? To an­swer “noth­ing de­fin­i­tive” might sound snarky, but it’s not meant as such. Much of the novella seems to find Miéville play­ing with mood in a book that, in ad­di­tion to child­hood strug­gles to un­der­stand the world, ap­pears to touch tan­gen­tially on the fate of refugees, de­nial and favela liv­ing.

As for the pri­mary mood all this con­jures up, imag­ine Kafka crossed with the lush and lonely Amer­i­cana of Jimmy Webb’s great­est songs. It shouldn’t work, but This Cen­sus- Taker is both grip­ping and tan­ta­lis­ingly elu­sive, per­haps not un­con­ci­den­tally akin to try­ing to re­mem­ber an im­por­tant yet only hal­fun­der­stood event. Jonathan Wright

We can ex­pect a full- length Miéville novel later this year: The Last Days Of New Paris ( due in Au­gust) is set in an al­ter­nate 1940.

Imag­ine Kafka crossed with Jimmy Webb

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