Review of EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville

EmbassytownEmbassytown by China MiƩville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I won’t even attempt to summarize the complicated premise of EMBASSYTOWN. The novel is a bit slow to start, and the characters aren’t deeply drawn–especially the protagonist, who is more a narrative device than a real character (rather like the vestigial narrators in some 19th century Russian novels, who serve principally as camera eyes to reveal the doings of others). I also have some misgivings about the premise–for instance, if the Ariekei’s unique language doesn’t allow for abstraction, how could they ever have conceived of the need for similes?

But these are quibbles. Overall, EMBASSYTOWN is a beautifully written, profoundly original, intellectually challenging, and completely immersive novel that demonstrates yet again that China Mieville is one of the finest writers currently working in any genre.

I was strongly reminded of Ursula Le Guin’s THE DISPOSSESSED–not because of any similarities of style or content, but because EMBASSYTOWN too is a novel built around an intellectual exercise–in this case, the nature of language and the way in which language shapes, and limits, thought, cognition, and culture. But while THE DISPOSSESSED, fascinating as it is, never quite lets you forget that it’s a thought experiment, EMBASSYTOWN ultimately reaches beyond the dry territory of intellectual exercise, and achieves true tragic scope.

I don’t often give five stars, but EMBASSYTOWN merits them and more. Also recommended: Mieville’s THE CITY AND THE CITY–also an intellectual exercise that breaks through its rigor to seize hold of the emotions and haunt the reader long after it’s finished.

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