Of the three times that China Miéville has rewritten Neverwhere, Kraken is the least worthy of the comparison. Worthy? No, wrong adjective. They are just totally different. It is worthy in its own way.
Though Kraken has a Croup and Vandemar echo in Goss and Subby, this is one Neverwhere comparison I don’t see, namely because all of London’s secret societies and activities are not spatially divided from the London just anyone can see. They are just secrets, not-well-known, less visible, but totally traceable on the internet if you’re good with Uncle Google. Kraken‘s secret London is not another world entirely, one you need to climb the Everest of library shelves to enter (Un Lun Dun) or one taking place concurrently in the subway and sewer tunnels beneath the city that renders you invisible to normal folk (King Rat). Also: I liked Neverwhere. I did not like Kraken. It was my least favorite Miéville book so far.
Now you know what Kraken is not. What is it? Confusing. Overly dense. While I commend Miéville for managing to give many of Kraken‘s characters very unique habits of speech, so much of the dialogue was annoying and convoluted. Instead of giving the supernatural police force wanks a voice, or dull Everyman Billy, I would have liked to follow Wati (once a golem, now a bodiless being who flits from statue to statue with no form of his own and a union organizer for animal familiars), Dane (a warrior for a squid cult), Marge (a tangential but sympathetic character who gets drawn into the action via the disappearance of her boyfriend), or Simon (a man whose Star Trek obsession has had strange and dire consequences). There was no shortage of interesting characters in Kraken, they just were not the characters who got the most PoV page time.
There was also no shortage of interesting ideas in the book, but for the entire 481 pages I vehemently wished Miéville had burned this manuscript to the ground and re-built. The story is fascinating and full of the Miéville-brand weird that I love, but he could have made this an infinitely better book if he’d scrapped this structure and gone at it from another angle.
Even before I began to read, I had a theory: Kraken is a response to Jeff VanderMeer’s 2001 novel City of Saints and Madmen, maybe even a sort of highly original, überintellectual Ambergris fan fic. That VanderMeer and Miéville read each other’s work is evident in the blurbs they have written for each other, and the short fiction of Miéville’s that VanderMeer has published in his anthologies. Ambergris, the fictional city depicted in City of Saints and Madmen centers itself around a strange and violent annual Festival of the Freshwater Squid, a tradition begun to honor one of the city’s main food sources. Kraken focuses, in part, on a religious cult who worship the squid. I could easily see the seed of Miéville’s idea sprouting from the flesh of VanderMeer’s. What would a cult that celebrated squid look like in modern-day London? Like Kraken, is what. If I’m right this is a metatextual connection that makes both books the more interesting for its existence. And probably a crackpot theory, but I’ll be damned if I’m not right.
Perhaps most interesting, for a lover of post-apocalyptic literature like myself, was Miéville’s tongue-in-cheek-in-squid depiction of end times cults: “…we’re facing a wave of St. John’s. A bit of an epidemic of eschatologies. We live…in the epoch of competing ends. … That’s what gets converts these days…It’s a buyer’s market in apocalypse” (49). But this time the apocalypse is really coming, all the prophets are agreeing (a sure sign of trouble), and it is making them sick. Will our intredpidly annoying hero(s) manage to stop it?
Shelve this one in “pre-apocalyptic,” but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out if the prophets are right in the end. Despite my annoyance with the dialogue, the majority of the characters, and the structure, this is a book worth reading, if not just to get a full sense of what Miéville can do.
Six out of thirteen glasses of squid on the wall, six out of thirteen glasses of squid, take one down, pass it around…
Where I got it: Used book store