Kraken: An Anatomy
By China Mieville
Billy Harrow is boring and nothing much happens in his life. He’s a curator at London’s Natural History museum and has an uncanny ability to make creatures look alive in formaldehyde. Giving a tour one day to a small group of people, a normal occurrence that comes with the job, he finds the museum’s most famous exhibit, a giant squid, missing. The cops are called, interviews granted, and no leads emerge. Billy goes home and tells two friends about the missing squid, or squidnapping if you will, and his odd day. What follows is a strange tale of squid worshippers, encounters with Londonmancers who predict the city’s future, magicians, gods, familiars, gunfarmers, chaos Nazis, and Star Trek fanatics.
I’m at a loss as to how to describe this book. In genre terms, it’s fantasy. It’s a caper of sorts, but it’s really not. It’s a mystery, but it’s not exactly. There’s so much going on in this book that I feel that if I talk only about one portion, then I wouldn’t be doing it justice. On the other hand, if I don’t tell you about it all, then I won’t make it come alive.
My first experience with Mieville’s writing was The City & The City. It’s a dark, detective, police procedural and even though it wasn’t my regular reading, I enjoyed it. I thought this would be somewhat the same but it’s not at all. It’s funny, witty, strange, downright weird, and chaotic in parts. He takes you to the story’s abyss and pulls you back in. (Oh, come on, I couldn’t resist.) There’s a long list of characters that range from the most bland to the oddest of people and one who actually is what his name suggests — a tattoo. He talks by moving around on a man’s back, slightly creepy but very effective. There’s a god who flits back and forth into stone statues and the odd Star Trek figurine trying to help Billy track down the stolen squid and at the same time he’s also trying to put down a strike by familiars. Then there are soothsayers who cut holes in the skin of the city (the asphalt serves as the city’s skin) to read its guts and predict the future. There are otherworldly hit men and a police force that deals in the supernatural.
Here’s the hard part about this review — I enjoyed this book. A lot. Thanks to this book, there are many new words that I want to incorporate into my vocabulary — Google-fu, Krakenists (people who worship the Kraken god), and squipnapping to name three. Although, admittedly, squidnapping is going to be much harder to slip in during normal conversation. It amused me, made me think of paperback thriller books you can buy at the grocery store, and made me add Mieville to my list of must-read authors but the books itself is impossible for me describe.
What I can say is that Mieville is a master story-teller able to incorporate a wide range of pop culture along with numerous religious arguments you never really knew you’d find yourself thinking about while reading a book about a giant squid that has been kidnapped.
I spent several days ruminating over this review and I still don’t think I’ve provided anything useful. It’s strange book but a good mix of everything. It’s fantasy (the story takes place in an alternate London) but offers so much more.
Here’s what I will say to wrap this up and staunch the bit of a love fest I have going on — if you’re looking for something completely out of the ordinary, try this one. It won’t disappoint, just make sure you go in with an open mind and a good bit of, “Oh, OK, that’s where we’re going with this. Then lead on,” attitude.