This Census-Taker by China Mieville

Description: In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a profoundly traumatic event. He tries—and fails—to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape.

When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over.

But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend? Enemy? Or something else altogether?

Filled with beauty, terror, and strangeness, This Census-Taker is a poignant and riveting exploration of memory and identity.

Reading China Mieville is a little like being kidnapped. You’re not quite sure what’s happening, you’re not sure where you going, and afterwards, you’re not sure where you’ve been. That’s where the analogy ends, because China Mieville is a wonderful experience and This Census-Taker, his latest story, is another great one.

One of Mieville’s strengths is immersing you in a world that is a surreal yet contains tantalizing elements of familiarity. This Census-Taker is the story of a boy who lives on a hill in a remote location. After an event which leaves him terrified, the boy is left alone with a parent who is both mysterious and possibly dangerous. The story is told from the point of view of the man the boy became.

This story draws you in, fascinates you and discomfits you all at the same time. The characters are solid and well-drawn even while their actions and views of events may remain opaque. I was struck by the beauty and oddness of the descriptions, both of people and place. This story in particular reminded me of something that Shirley Jackson or Kelly Link might have written. There is a sense of disquiet created, even a sense of foreboding. It pulls you forward but you have no idea what awaits and if you should anticipate it or dread it.

The ending of this book for me was incredible, and while not filled with answers, it did fill me with wonder. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that I am fascinated with Mieville’s command of language and the ability to structure things in a way that let you reexamine early story events in a new light once certain things are revealed. The tantalizing glimpse of this world and its inhabitants that Mieville offers is very satisfying. It may not be for everyone, but for anyone who enjoys their fiction a little odd and exceptionally well-written, it might be for you. I loved this story. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

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