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Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Miéville’s always been one of those names, you know? I’d heard of him, heard he was a bit of a Marmite guy, but everyone agrees he’s an author that you have to try at least once in your life. So I bookmarked the guy, decided to pick up his latest story about a boy on a hill in a houseful of keys. I was excited to see if it was my cuppa tea.

I’m sure Miéville knows by now that not everyone’s going to appreciate his specific brand of weirdness, and I’m sure he doesn’t care that I’m now adding my name to the list. I can’t judge his other works because I’m not going to read them; This Census-Taker was just so relentlessly awful.

Plot? Nah. Interesting characters? Fuck no. Stupid narrative and one semi-interesting feature that is never explained? OH YEAH. Plus 200 pages of boredom, oddities, stuff that wasn’t really a story. It was irksome to read, like being stuck listening to the semi-coherent ramblings of the local drunk while you’re waiting at the bus stop on a groggy Monday morning.
And when I stumble upon something so rubbish, something that feels like such a waste of paper, I spend far too much time obsessing about the point of it all, and severely angering myself in the process.

Honestly, this is a bit of a nothing book. A boring and personality-deficient boy’s father maybe murders his mother. The boy still has to live with him, while growing increasingly scared of him. Until a census-taker comes to call and, well if you don’t mind me telling you, takes him away.
It’s quite plain to see that the theme of this novel is childhood trauma, a sliver of domestic abuse and some child neglect to spice it up. Except why write a story about such poignant themes when it fails so hard to make me care?

This little boy, the main character, is dull as fuck. He has no depth, hardly any feelings. He’s just there, narrating this story, switching between first, second and third person like an absolute ponce, not evoking any sort of reaction in me whatsoever.
What do I care that he’s scared of his dad? He’s not a real person, his suggested existence just annoys me. I’m concentrating more on trying to figure out where the fuck this story is set, and what the hell is up with those keys? Why won’t you explain the fucking keys, Miéville?

You’ve got to be trying to make a point here, right Miéville? But for the life of me I cannot figure out what it is! Are you saying that childhood trauma turns you into a husk, a shell of your potential self with no feelings or personality? Because that’s not true, is it?
Is this one of those cop-out books where the reader had to “make their own mind up” about the true meaning of the story? Because if so, see above.
Is this a pass at surrealism or something? Because I tell you, it was fucking weird and not in a good way. And I tell you, if given this book to read Salvador Dalí would tear it to ribbons and feed it to his anteater. Artaud would give you one of his looks of absolute disgust and call you a poser.

I don’t know what to think anymore, apart from thinking about how annoyed I am. As much as I know that art and literature are subjective, I would never call this art, I would never say this was well-written. Art and literature have intent, and This Census-Taker had none. If it did, it would have to be a commentary on childhood trauma and how it turns you into a weirdo, incapable of emotions, incapable of making anyone care about you. That’s all I got from this. That, and anger.

Maybe I just didn’t “get” it. Fair enough. But you know what else I won’t be getting? Any more of China Miéville’s books.


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