After a little meltdown last night about my rate of reading in the last month and a half, M. reminded me that 10-10-12 is not a race or competition, but is an exercise in me loving to read. And someone how that pep talk (that wasn’t, I don’t think, intended as a pep talk) gave me the zip I needed to finish off Un Lun Dun, a mostly terrific young adult fiction book with illustrations (which category will it fall into?).
China Mieville might be better known for his adult fantasy novels (or so my friends who read fantasy tell me), but Un Lun Dun (pronounced UnLondon) is deserving of its own credit and following. The book follows our un-hero, Deeba, as she finds herself in the world of UnLondon – a shadow city separated from London, but not necessarily different from the ‘real’ city in terms of xenophobia, class conflict, and most prominently, environmental concerns.
After several – unecessary – chapters about Deeba’s friend the “Shazzy” (I say unnecessary because they do not add to Deeba’s characterization and rather than advancing the plot, these chapters stall its development. What these chapters do offer is a space to sketch the setting of UnLondon in some detail, a “setting up” that might easily take place on Deeba’s second visit) Deeba finds herself tasked with battling “The Smog,” a malicious force bent on destroying both UnLondon and London by consuming it with fire. This (somewhat?) allegorical menace allows readers of any age to connect the consumption patterns of the modern city with environmental toxins and pollutants and makes a vigorous case for “nothing” as the solution to this problem. The solution of “nothing,” is to me a poignant conclusion for the novel as it advocates at one at the same time that “nothing” can be done to solve the problem/character of the Smog, and yet simultaneously suggests that it is by doing less, or by doing “nothing,” that we might combat it.
In any case, the climatic battle between Deeba and the Smog is by far the most engaging section of the book. The rest of the novel is something of a trudging affair, a journey that is not all about the journey and rather all about the expected climatic-awesomeness of the destination. That the climax did meet my expectations of awesomeness was pleasant, but I’m not convinced the slog to get there was worth it.