Let’s get Kraken

Latest all-night read: China Miéville’s Kraken.  I’d only read one book of his before, The Scar, which I recall as very long and constantly building toward something without ever getting there.  He’s certainly solved that last problem: plenty happens in Kraken, and the magic isn’t hidden.

The main character is Billy Harrow, curator at London’s Natural History Museum, whose prize specimen is the giant squid, which disappears on page 10, and not out any known door or window.  The police show up– not the regular bobbies, mind you, but a special unit charged with checking out cults and magic.  There’s a cult that worships the giant squid; might they be involved?  And what’s all this about the end of the world?

It’s a little like Miéville read Neverwhere and decided to crank it up to 11… especially when we get to Goss and Subby, all the viciousness of Croup and Vandemar without the charm or rationality.  London turns out to be riddled with magic, with sects and gangs and legends.  Comic horror requires an exquisite balance of weirdness and realism, and Miéville’s got it; as in his depiction of an origami murder or a novel interpretation of “knuckleheads”.

There are maybe a couple chapters too many which just reinforce the basic predicament (squid gone, world ending) without accomplishing much, and I wish we’d got a little more of his wonderful punk witch-cop, Kath Collingswood.  But it’s vivid and playful and deeply fascinated by London (and squid, and many other things).

It’s easy enough to be bizarre; it’s hard to make it work as a novel.  You have to have a stream of strange and surprising ideas, and yet you have to have a building structure, and an ending that doesn’t feel like a cheat.  I think he manages it, though I’m not sure how.  One key though is foreshadowing… it’s satisfying when things click into place, when you can look back at an earlier bit and say “Ahhh, that’s what that meant.”