Tuesday, June 12, 2012

'Railsea' - China Mieville

Note: I have now finished the book and my final thoughts are at the end.

"I'm 8% into China Mieville's new book 'Railsea'. It's a trademark Mieville world of Victorian heavy engineering manned by horny-handed proletarians. The world is densely-covered by train-tracks and points: trains are the equivalent of oceanic ships. All the characters have long, weird names and the hero is a boy apprenticed to become a doctor, tho' he knows it's not his true vocation.

The boy is on a train which hunts giant moles (they have an unusual name, like moldywarpes or something). There are plain echoes of 'Moby Dick'. The plot, if there is one, seems to be focussed around the mysterious mole-objective of the train captain, who is not called Ahab.

Mieville always writes beautifully, with inventive vocabulary and colouful turns of phrase. What he's missing (so far) is an engaging plot. I read out of duty, hoping that at some stage my interest will actually engage. 'Embassytown' was similar - lauded for its examination of the concepts underlying the use of language, but curiously uninvolving as a story.

Characterisation, descriptive writing and something to say are all vital ... but if you're in the business of fiction which entertains and turns the pages, you DO need plot."

Update Friday June 22nd.

Finally finished and view unchanged. Lots of 5-star reviews on the net reward Mieville's fine writing and beautifully-imagined setting. But I found the book uninvolving and shallow: a rather complex and tedious quest story with no deeper significance.