China Miéville is known for some strange and often brilliant works of speculative fiction. His latest book, This Census-Taker, is an intriguing look at a horrific world through the eyes of a young boy, and it’s no less strange and brilliant than his other works.
Miéville’s unnamed narrator recounts a story from his childhood, starting when he ran away from his home convinced that his mother did something terrible.
But that’s not quite it.
It’s his mother that vanishes, and it’s his father that he’s seen commit horrific acts: killing animals, and probably people. After the boy’s escape to a nearby village, he’s told that there’s nothing that can be done about the situation without proof, and he’s sent back home again.
There’s a wonderful sense of foreboding with this novella: it lingers in Miéville’s descriptions, dialogue and characters, and it’s a book that leaves more questions unasked than answered.
Because of that, it’ll be a frustrating read for some. This isn’t a book that has easy or clear answers for the world or questions that Miéville has put together. That’s probably for the best, because the fantastic stuff isn’t really the point here - it would distract from the fascinating, minimalist approach that’s been laid down here.
Told through the lens of the memory of a young boy, there’s the sense that the events and world that we see here are slightly off - interpreted without context. It’s a jarring story, made even more so as it ping-pongs back and forth between the past and present.
In many ways, this is a story about stories and memory: the sorts of fundamental building blocks that build up our memory and identities. This is a strange book, but it’s a quietly brilliant read, one that leaves it’s reader in a daze, contemplating what they’ve read for long after the book is put away.