Thank you, China Miéville. Thank you. Thank you!
In the last week & a half, full of 14-hour work days, lack of sleep, physical & mental exhaustion & near-constant feeling of overwhelmed inadequacy CM provided me with the sanctuary of a few precious hours when none of that mattered, when I was completely under the spell of this weirdly fascinating, ridiculous but engrossing universe, when I felt that Miéville's boundless imagination has given me a safe haven where I could breathe free. Therefore, my impression of this book may be somewhat colored by all the above. But that's what books are for, right? To create a frame of mind that makes life better, richer & even easier, right? (Btw, I actually do love my job. It's a dream job. But it's just that I'm so overwhelmed right now, realizing how incredibly steep my learning curve is!)
"People have wanted to narrate since first we banged rocks together & wondered about fire. There’ll be tellings as long as there are any of us here, until the stars disappear one by one like turned-out lights."
I would love to take a hypothetical journey through China Miéville's mind. I mean, I highly doubt that there can be ANYTHING of which this man's boundless imagination cannot conceive. He has a knack for taking the most ridiculous situations, the craziest ideas, the strangest premises - & seemingly effortlessly developing them into rich worlds, mind-boggling adventures, & brainy entertainment (rare slip-ups such as Kraken nonwithstanding).
This book was meant to be. I mean, Miéville & Melville are separated by only one letter. It was bound to happen - this weird combination of Moby Dick¹ & trains. Except here the wild chase of dreams & 'philosophy' happens in the Railsea. Which is exactly what it sounds like. A sea of rails. Where, among other things, a captain (missing a limb) is pursuing a gigantic pale whale mole. That's right. Who else but CM could EVER pull it off?
¹ I read Moby Dick as a 10-year-old kid (obsessed with Jacques Cousteau, btw) & simply loved it. Of course, all the intended symbolism sailed right over my kiddo head (pun intended). All I knew was - blah blah, crazy captain, blah blah, weird stuff, blah blah - hey! cool stuff about whales! look at all the ways to take a dead whale's corpse apart! look at all the cool stuff you can make from whales! I think I read it as a sort of encyclopedia. Yeah, I was a weird kid.
Railsea is, as expected based on the knowledge of the source material, a story about a quest, an obsession, a purpose, & an overpowering allure of a dream. It is chock-full of all that literary symbolic stuff, yeah, but it is also full of adventures & fun (& ampersands!). & yet again, like in pretty much every single one of Miéville's books, the strength of it is not in the plot or the characters (even though those are excellently done) but in making the setting to be the true character & the true focus of the story. The bizarre nature of the Railsea world of dangerous earth & toxic sky & trains & moles & train-angels is so well-developed that it somehow feels real & dangerous & incredibly fascinating.
It was NOT the plot, really, that made me turn the pages in anticipation - it was the reveal of more & more sides & secrets of this world that captivated me. & the tone - the often-cheeky breaking-the-fourth-wall tone that I adored as well. & staring so may any sentences with "&" - a non-grammatical love of mine. Wonderful job, Mr. Miéville. Simply wonderful.
This apparently is a YA book - probably because it has a teenage protagonist. Otherwise, there is not much that makes it a typical YA except for slightly toned-down vocabulary (for Miéville, that is. Dictionary still may be beneficial.) I guess YA as an intended audience of Railsea explains why this world is lightyears tamer than the festering filth of New Crobuzon - but tamer does not mean less interesing. It has much less cynicism, & bleakness is replaced by hope & the sense of adventure - but this is exactly what I needed after the last few exhausting days. & there is NO talking down or oversimplifying or insulting the readers' intelligence in any other way, the way many YA books do. In short, whatever the intended audience may, this will be an enjoyable read for adults.
5 stars ampersands. Highly recommended!