Here is a list of true statements that describe, but sure as hell do not clarify, my opinion of Kraken and China Mieville in general.

  1. China Mieville has a great penchant for the word “variegated”.
  2. I have always had a particular antipathy towards the word “variegated”.
  3. I do not like most of China Mieville’s writing.
  4. China Mieville is a good writer.
  5. I do not think China Mieville’s writing is engaging.
  6. There is some really trippy fantastical amazing shit in China Mieville’s books.
  7. It takes me five times as long to read a China Mieville novel than most other books.
  8. The endings of China Mieville’s books are always grandiose, epic, fitting, thought provoking, and satisfying.

Needless to say this will be a short and confusing review.

Kraken is a good book, and overall I recommend it if only because you have to make up your own mind on China Mieville’s writing, which is anything but easily described and dismissed. For most of the book I was frustrated by what I said to myself was the soullessness of the writing. I felt the amazing setting and events were done an injustice by the tepid wrapping they came in, then three-fourths into the book I read this: (NOTE: this passage describes the sea, which in this book is a sentient thing, sneakily seeping into and throughout London)

There is nowhere the sewers don’t go. Fat filaments tracking humans under everything, unceasingly sluicing shitty rubbishy rain. The gentle down slope links all those pipes to the sea, and it was back along those pipes, defying gravity and the effluvial flow that the sea had sent its own filaments, its own sensory channels of saltwater, tickling below the city, listening, licking the brickwork. For a day and a half there was a secret sea under London, fractal in all the tunnels.

It’s beautiful. It’s one huge lovingly crafted onomatopoetic passage. The susurrations evocative of the sounds of the sea, gentle hisses like the foamy bubbles fizzing on the surface, the lilting cadence like waves licking the rocks. The end of the second sentence is alternately reminiscent of the staccato tempo of a heavy rain, and of a relentless downpour. And of course I also appreciate the imagery of a city permeated by the sea down to its veins and capillaries. But imagery is easy. Combining sound and meaning in one is art.

I won’t be reading another one of Mr. Mieville’s books for a while. I need a break both from the frustration and the intensity.

 

Verdict: Aargh. Cool story.