Fully Booked: China Mieville’s “Perdido Street Station”

I’m really into books — not as a normal, healthy hobby but in the obsessive, firstborn-naming sense. We’re talking late-night binges, quotation lists and pages of to-reads. This is why I was left with some seriously mixed feelings upon turning the 710th page of China Mieville’s “Perdido Street Station.” About a third of the way in, I was ready to declare it the “best book ever” of the year. And then, well, it was downhill from there. Only a week after I finished, I was left with lingering frustration for what could have been.

            A blurb on the back cover describes the book as “phantasmagoric” and, at first, I couldn’t think of a better word. Not only does it describe the fantastical setting but it also exemplifies the long, obscure words that pepper the book.

            The backdrop is breathtaking: Beneath a shroud of steam and filth, the metropolis of New Crubozon smolders. Disease, crime, violence and corruption run rampant in streets free from morality and earthly science. Constructs puff side by side with humans: humanoids and the gruesomely reconstructed Remade. There’s a place for everyone, from the maze-like streets of Bone Town, which lie in the shadow of a massive ribcage of something long dead, to the swarming hives of Kinken, where the bug-headed Khepri build great communal works of art from their own saliva. At its center lies the eponymous Perdido Street Station. It’s a storybook of fantastically imagined horrors, and it’s absolutely awesome — at least at first.

            However, life in New Crubozon is so consistently and creatively horrible that by the end of the book, violent dismemberment is practically mundane. My revulsion was exhausted after the first 200 pages, but Mieville never seems to tire. Obviously, this is not a book for the faint of heart.

            Many plot lines sprout from the fertile filth of the city. Eccentric scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is sought to restore flight to Yaghagarek, a member of the hawk race who was de-winged by his clan for the heinous crime of “choice-theft.” His Khepri lover, Lin, receives a commission for a peculiar statue from a mob boss (yes, interspecies love is a thing). Their mutual friend wages a propaganda war against the oppressive regime. And a mysterious grub turns up, only eating hallucinogenics and growing by the day. There’s more, but, sadly, most of these beginnings never come to fruition.

            Halfway into the book, all subtlety is abruptly abandoned, and the story turns into a fight against horrific, reality-defying monsters. Plot lines are aborted. Characters are never heard from again. Philosophical musing is replaced with a tide of carnage. Pick anything else! You’ve already told us about the constructed intelligence lying in a junkyard, the brutal mayor, the secretive clan of mind-controlling parasites and the twisted, art-obsessed mob boss. With all the competing human(oid) interests in this fantastic city, there’s no reason to go in such a ludicrous direction.

            This is why I cast sidelong, angry glances at the book as I write this review. I feel betrayed. We could have been so much together, “Perdido Street Station.” I looked up your needlessly complicated vocabulary and soldiered through the gross parts. Why did it end like this?

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