by China Mieville
I've been intimidated by China Mieville for years. I keep buying his books, but I don't read them. In part, it's because I'm not a big fan of one of his primary genres, science fiction. Of course, trying to pigeonhole a writer like Mieville is futile, as his novels are a jumble of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, humor, and God knows what else. No, mostly I'm intimidated by his intelligence and literacy. I've met the man several times. He's lovely. But you can tell right away: Dude is wicked smart. I'm no light-weight, but when it comes to Mieville I've just wimped out.
Well, I'm a wimp no more! I've read Kraken, and guess what? I LOVED it! In fact, it made my top ten list for 2010. This is one of those times when you just want to kick yourself for not getting around to something earlier. Happily, Mr. Mieville's backlisted titles are sitting on my shelf waiting for me.
It helped that this latest novel was essentially written for me. Who else but the world's foremost collector of "trashy underwater fiction" would gravitate to a novel about squid worshippers? But I'm getting ahead of myself... The protagonist of this novel is biologist Billy Harrow who, as the novel is opening, is leading a tour though the museum where he works. The highlight and finale of the tour is the preserved architeuthis dux, the giant squid. When Billy and his tour enter the room where it's kept, the immense creature and its 25-foot tank are, impossibly, nowhere in evidence.
So begins a bizarre tale. Billy is as flummoxed as the average reader. Early on in the novel he is told, "How could you possibly understand what is going on? Even if you wanted to. Which, as I say, dot dot dot." Not all of the dialog is quite so enigmatic, but a good deal of it is as funny. At least if you have an appreciation for British humor.
I honestly don't know what else to say about this novel. The plot is impossible to summarize. It's been incredibly polarizing among readers. Elements of Kraken were reminiscent of authors like Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Barnes--high praise in my book. There's a limit to how much weird I can take, and Kraken is weird, but it was fantastic, too! I suspect that this is one of those "love it" or "hate it" novels. Based on that assessment alone, it's worth giving a try. Like me, you just might surprise yourself by falling into the "love it" camp.