Wave your tentacles in the air

I LOVED this book.

Major disclaimer: I am no fan of Lovecraft. That is, I have never read any of the Cthulhu texts. I had a friend in high school who really got into them, but… yeh. My aversion to horror goes waaaay back, baby. So if there are clever and/or snide references to Lovecraftian characters, ideas, or themes, they swam right over my head.


I had no real idea about what this book would entail, except:

1. Tansy abandoned it for apparent lack of tentacle smut;

2. The other two books by Mieville I have read (Perdido St Station and The City & the City) I have adored;

3. There would be tentacles of some sort, even if it wasn’t smut.So I had few real expectations, except that I was hoping it would be as engagingly written as his other work. On this level, I was certainly fulfilled.

Mieville’s writing style really, really appeals to me. It’s not overtly fancy and obtusely “literary” – by which I mean that snide insinuation that the author is using fancy, opaque words for no good reason; rather, I know the words he uses, and they make sense, and they tell a story. But there is SOMETHING in the construction, something in the sentences he puts together, that is utterly enchanting. He is a delight to read. This particularly applies to his dialogue. Mieville captures the essence of different characters through their words with each other; he has a talent for the rhythm of conversation, without falling into annoying attempts at getting all the slang and dropped letters in there.

My delight at the dialogue brings me to one of the really interesting aspects of Kraken. In many ways, this feels like a snarky, conflicted, love-letter to London. As a big fan of the Natural History Museum I was way more pleased than I ought to have been to see how big a role that place played. And I really enjoyed Mieville’s imagining of London as the great Heresiopolis, with its own Londonmancers looking after it, and having a really distinct and important character in the book. In theory the narrative could have been set anywhere near the coast, but Mieville makes it a convincingly London story.

The narrative? Well, it’s not the most original aspect of the novel. It boils down to an approaching Armageddon and what can possibly be done about it. There is a somewhat hapless curator, a possibly obsessive Kraken devotee, some snarky coppers, and a whole raft of Big Bad Guys all running around getting in each other’s way. There’s a twist at the very end that I didn’t see coming – but then, I rarely do, unless they are glaringly obvious. It almost all takes place in London, and from memory it takes place over a relatively short period of time, too – maybe a couple of weeks. It’s all sparked off by a giant squid specimen going missing in a rather… fantastic… manner. Things go downhill for our heroes from there, until the whole world is nearly devoured by fire. OH NOES. While I’ve read end-of-the-world stories before, it didn’t matter much. I was genuinely unsure, on and off for the whole novel, about whether or how Mieville could redeem the world from the edge of the abyss (I’m not spoiling by saying whether he does or not!)

One of the few niggling problems I had was with the female characters (surely that’s not a surprise to anyone). There were only three women of any significance, and their significance isn’t large. There’s a female copper, who I will admit to being very fond of; she has an extremely foul mouth, a short temper, and a way of figuring things out. There’s Marge (short of Marginalia…), who I initially thought was going to be totally wet but turned out to have… not “hidden reserves,” but a determination that refused to be defused, even when ostensibly the reason for keeping on going had faded. She’s cool. And there’s a Londonmancer, too, who becomes significant towards the end, but she doesn’t have that much of a role. So… yeh. Coulda had more chicks.

Overall, this was a rollicking adventure, probably more like Perdido than The City but really nothing like either of them. I don’t think it’s as good as either of them, because the narrative isn’t quite as clever. But it’s possibly more fun – depending on what you’re looking for in your genre-reading.

11 responses

  1. I did not abandon it for lack of tentacle smut!

    It was because a) I didn’t like any of the characters enough to make up for b) I remembered too late that I loathe Lovecraftiana with a fiery passion.

    1. Heh. OK, sorry, must have been another book I was thinking of… And I think my lack of knowledge about Lovecraft was probably an asset!

    2. seantheblogonaut | Reply

      Hey aside from the fact that he was racist, what do you have against Lovecraft 🙂

  2. Was that one for me, Sean? I don’t have any special like/dislike for Lovecraft, as I’m not well read enough in his body of work to form an opinion, and have no interest in doing so.

    I do, however, have a deep and violent loathing for the incredibly large volume of ‘homage to Lovecraft’ works that so proliferate in our genre. I’ve come to terms with this particular reader quirk of mine – I’ve read Lovecraftiana from many of my absolutely favourite authors and with an exception for Terry Pratchett (who writes chitin like no one else) there is just a ‘bah’ button in my head that gets activated every single time.

    BAH, I say.

    1. seantheblogonaut | Reply

      🙂 ah yes that body of work is deep and the work somewhat murky

  3. seantheblogonaut | Reply

    I was actually trying to reply to Miss Anti-Cthulu 🙂

    1. That’s Dr Anti-Faux-Cthulu to you!

      1. seantheblogonaut | Reply

        I as forgetting myself. Doctor it is 🙂

  4. seantheblogonaut | Reply

    Today’s comments brought to you by the missing letter “W”.

  5. […] Culture Have we Consumed? Alex: Kraken, China Mieville; Doomsday Book, Connie Willis; Mappa Mundi, Justina Robson; Brasyl, Ian McDonald; […]

  6. […] is a love-letter to London, in some ways, and for that reminded of China Mieville’s Kraken. There is little else of similarity, but it does amuse me to think of reading these two together as […]

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