Review: Kraken, by China Mieville

I’m sorry to have to say that Kraken was a huge disappointment to me. I like what is commonly referred to as “the new weird” and I sincerely wanted to like Kraken, but after about the first 200+ pages I found that I was prepared to do almost anything to avoid reading it. It’s close to 500 pages long and so little actually happens in those pages that I found myself wondering why I was bothering.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a kind of amazing, whacked-out Wonderland quality about Mieville’s London. It’s teeming with creatures — human and otherwise — who move easily through many layers of alternate reality. They’re intriguing and bizarre, and they’re what carry this story. But they can only do it for so long. Once their appearances became commonplace, I began to notice all the failings of the narrative: too many characters who do very little to advance the plot, too much to-ing and fro-ing with nothing being accomplished. Too many ??? moments with no real attempt at answering the questions, as if Mieville was channeling the writers of “Lost.” Mash-ups can be fun, but they have to produce something which is greater than the sum of the mashed-up bits and Kraken isn’t that something.

Seriously, if someone edited out about two hundred pages and tightened up what was left this might be a five-star read. As it is, it’s rambling and often confused; if Kraken was a film, you could go off and make a sandwich and come back knowing that you really hadn’t missed anything critical. China Mieville can do better.

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