Microviews Vol. 57: A Word From The Weird

on Sunday, February 28, 2016
This Census-Taker by China Miéville
A strange boy comes running down a hill into the nearby village to report that his father has just killed his mother. So begins China Miéville's unsettling but almost hypnotic new novella, This Census-Taker. A search party is mobilised and an investigation of sorts is carried out. The mother is indeed missing but there is nothing to suggest foul play. It's hard to tell whether this is Miéville's Curious Incident Of The Dog In the Nighttime; has the boy misinterpreted his mother's desertion or did something more sinister actually happen? It is quickly apparent that the villagers don't want to upset the boy's father. He is the maker of keys, talismans that promise the fulfilment of their deepest desires. But he may also be a killer. If only they could penetrate the great chasm in the mountains where the boy says he throws the bodies. The whole thing comes to nought and the investigations abates until, one day, a census taker appears and takes the boy on as an apprentice. At which point it gets weird. Some readers (and critics) have been panning the book for its obtuseness and seeming lack of direction. I really don't get their gripe. Sure, it unfolds like the incantations of a fever dream, but This Census-Taker is Miéville at his genre-defying best.
4 Out Of 5 Shifting Realities

Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue
In what I can only interpret as a sly dig at David Foster Wallace and his massive masterpiece Infinite Jest, Álvaro Enrigue opens his something-resembling-a-novel with the assertion that no great books have been written about tennis. The instant tethering of the two writers is fitting - Sudden Death is the kind of formality-averse, scattered intellectual mindfuck you'd expect from the late, great master of meta fiction. In as much as there is a story, it revolves around a 16th century tennis match between a poet and artist (you don't discover their identities until very late in the book), the result of which will determine the fate of Europe. The narrative is nominal - we get the occasional description of a point as it is played. Bets are placed, balls are thwacked into... well... balls. You get the drift. The rest of the book is an historical exposition of European conquest, especially as it stretched to and destroyed Enrigue's homeland, Mexico, interspersed with factoids, tidbits and correspondence about tennis. Central to it all is Enrigue's hilarious concoction of a set of tennis balls made from the locks shorn from Ann Boleyn's head before her execution. It is all delivered with po-faced seriousness, making it quite the romp to read. A completely original, confounding and exhilarating experience.
4 Out of 5 Djokovics

When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow by Dan Rhodes
Dan Rhodes sure has a thing for sacred cows. Particularly, he likes to slaughter them, mince them and serve them up as hamburgers of hilarity to his quite sizeable cult following. I've long had a thing for his brand of Grade A prissy patty and am always eager to see quite how far he is willing to push his luck. If we're to believe the hype, his latest novel is the one that finally crossed the line. No publisher was willing to touch it with a ten foot pole for fear of the ensuing lawsuits. And this from people who were happy to publish books about shitting as performance art. Alas, this time he picked on too precious a subject - the cult of Richard Dawkins. In what probably seemed like a funny idea at the time, Rhodes's latest book dumps an insufferably prattish Dawkins - brimming with pomposity, arrogance, stupidity and self-righteousness - in a country town full of devout Christians when a massive snow storm cuts off the road to Upper Bottom (get it? Ha ha. Snore.) where he is scheduled to give a speech. A few chortle-worthy gags gets things off to a good start (the continuous confusion of Dawkins and Stephen Hawking is a particular delight) but any mirthful warmth soon freezes over as the tale drags on in repetitive and not overly exciting fashion. A battle of nitwits ensues; the professor and the local vicar have it out over the dinner table, giving Rhodes a chance to lambaste both sides of the science/religion debate for their respective idiocies. It's all a mild distraction and might have made for a good short story but at novel length it very much overstays its welcome. There is a small chance this went unpublished for the reasons Rhodes would have us believe but I suspect there is a much more prosaic reason: it just isn't very good. Certainly not of the usual brilliance of this literary jester.
2.5 Out Of 5 Neanderthals


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