Saturday, September 11, 2010

Arty -- Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

To try to sum up Un Lun Dun's plot would be a futile effort, achieving only your confusion and a 'why in the world would anyone want to read this book?' But I'll try, and then explain my reasons for loving it later on.

There's London. And then there's UnLondon. That's what Zanna and Deeba find out one day when they take a trip underground and find themselves in place that's both familiar and unfamiliar. UnLondon is where the trash of London goes. Broken umbrellas. Milk cartons. Clothes. Washing machines. Anything you could think of that people throw away, it's there.

There are people in UnLondon too, odd people. There's also a prophecy (in a talking book, no less). Supposedly, Zanna is the Schwazzy, the long-awaited Chosen One that's going to conquer the Smog, UnLondon's gaseous enemy. Deeba finds out she has the role of 'funny sidekick.'

Or does she?

The front blurb describes Un Lun Dun as "London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights..." and I have to agree. The world is a totally strange, unfamiliar, sometimes scary place, like Wonderland. Unlike Wonderland, UnLondon is also vividly real. You can feel it, almost taste it, in the best parts. Even in the most ridiculous of situations - binjas, pet milk cartons, a man's body with the head of a birdcage - you don't stop to think about it, unless it's to marvel at the genius of the author.

The characters are full-bodied, with motives, personalities, and traits that make them seem even realer. Though it's hard to really picture them, it's easy to imagine the weird people that come and go in UnLondon's world.

At nearly 430 pages, Un Lun Dun is not a book for the faint of heart, but once you've started, it's not going to be put down. The pacing isn't slow, and it isn't fast; it simply tells the story with the necessary details and descriptions. The chapters are short and sweet, making it easy to think 'Oh, just one more and then I'll put it down...' Most readers know what happens when they think that.

That said, at a few points, it felt as though Miéville was trying too hard to mimic the backwards logic found in Alice in Wonderland. There were a few scenes that could have been at least shortened, without the 'subtle' points he tried to inject.

There is also something of an environmentalist agenda hidden inside Un Lun Dun - the main villain is, after all, the Smog. But in most cases, the villain is simply the villain; there are no we-awful-humans-are-destroying-the-earth moments. In fact, one of the Smog's associates is the Minister of Environment.

The bottom line? Read this book. It won't let you down.

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