My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Read for book club (although, again, I didn’t make the meeting), and also because I’m a fan. Unfortunately, this summoned up less enthusiasm in me than anything I’ve read from Miéville recently. (I’d been really, really hoping that this would be set in the same world as ‘This Census-Taker,’ but alas, it is unrelated.)
The concept is clever – perhaps a bit too ‘cute’ – but I didn’t feel that the story and characters lived up to it. It seemed that the idea came first, not a burning need to illustrate this particular story or a desire to bring these characters to life. The idea is that in WWII Paris, a devastating “S-Blast” occurred which changed everything, apocalyptically. The “S” in “S-Blast” stands for Surrealism, and what the event did was the bring all manner of creatures and concepts previously seen only in the artwork of creators from that school, to life. So Paris is teeming and crawling with bizarre and grotesque manifestations (“manifs.”)
The narrative cuts between past and present:
In the past (1941) we gradually discover what events led up to the S-Blast, as we follow an engineer and anti-Nazi activist with an interest in the occult, as he tries to angle an introduction to what he has heard is a remarkable and subversive group of artists.
In the present (1950) a resistance fight in occupied Paris meets a bold photographer who claims that she is documenting the manifs in this war zone for a book of photojournalism. But is that goal all – or even part of – her true agenda?
If you’re a big fan of the surrealist art movement, it will likely tickle you to see familiar artworks brought to ‘life’ through the pages of this novella. But the plot didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. My favorite part was actually the afterword/framing device at the end, which for some reason, I just loved.
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