Friday, 2 October 2009

Like the ribs of a broken umbrella

London, like many big cities, is already made up of many overlapping versions of itself, so the idea of one more, just a slip-though-the-cracks away, is fertile ground for fiction.

A while back, I picked up Black Tattoo, by Sam Enthoven , which is a YA fantasy book, set not just in London, but in parts of London I'm very familiar with. (The author used to work at a bookshop just up the road.) While talking about it with a friend, they were started to discover I'd not read Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville. I hadn't even heard of it; had no idea he'd ever written a YA book, but I'm really glad I tracked it down. I haven't been so charmed or entranced with a London story since Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

Gaiman's London Below is quite different to Miéville's Ab-Cities (London is not alone in having an alter-ego - there's also mention of No York, Parisn't, Lost Angeles, Sans Francisco, Helsunki, Hong Gone, Romeless ...) but they share that same kernel of one more 'other London' which is so terribly tempting. After all, the London experienced by premiership footballers is just as unfamiliar and impenetrable to me as Un Lun Dun, and rather less interesting to me!

Not only does Un Lun Dun touch on many of my favourite fantasy elements, subverting the standard 'prophesy and the chosen one' line, for example, it's also alive with Miéville's love of language. This is a space where the puns can run wild (quite literally) - 'un-brellas' and the very word 'binja' amuse me far more than I should probably admit in public.

I wish I could buy all of these books for work's collection, but leisure reading isn't our focus, so, instead, if there are any of my students reading this: Westminster Libraries have multiples of all three.

* Photo by, used under Creative Commons.

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