cover image This Census-Taker

This Census-Taker

China Miéville. Del Rey, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-101-96732-4

New Weird exemplar Miéville (Three Moments of an Explosion) evokes fantasy from the emotional currents of daily life, eradicating differences between self and other and between reality and dream. An anonymous narrator, who’s currently a prisoner but spoken of as an “honored guest,” relates a tragic childhood in a nameless, war-ravaged society. His isolated life is shattered when his father, a so-called keymaker whose keys open clients’ hidden desires, murders his mother. His claims that his father buried his mother in a pit don’t prevent the adult authorities from returning him to his father’s care. The only glimmer of joy in his life is his chance friendship with two orphans, motherly Samma and tough Drobe. The narrative of guilt and justice is accelerated by the appearance of the Census-Taker, an official who “counts people and things” and whose relentless probing leads the narrator to become the stranger’s assistant, searching for his own personality by recording the lives of others. Miéville’s Kafkaesque narrator is a man without identity who delves for meaning in other people’s stories, statistics, and untrustworthy memories. Fans of Miéville’s work will recognize and relish his sharp, probing storytelling. Sparse language and a minimalist approach make this intellectual vivisection best suited to readers who are willing to work for meaning. Agent: Mic Cheetham, Mic Cheetham Associates. (Jan.)