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Wow, more & more, when it comes to China Mieville, for me, it's lurrvve lurve LURVE! I'm starting to get to the point where I miss his 'voice' when I'm not busy reading a Miéville...
In this amusing and inventive coming-of-age story, Miéville pulls out all the Postmodernist stops & creates a work that is at the same time immediate, as it is highly allusive & metafictional.
Some of the characteristics of Pomo fiction, especially as they apply to Railsea:
Postmodern authors tend to employ metafiction (fiction that refers to itself, for instance when it poses as a journal or a history book, or when the author (as Miéville does in this novel) "breaks the fourth wall" by speaking directly to the reader).
Another characteristic of postmodern literature is the questioning of distinctions between high & low culture through the use of pastiche. A pastiche is a work of art or literature, that imitates the work of a previous artists, usually distinguished from parody in the sense that it celebrates rather than mocks the work it imitates. It tends to combine subjects & genres not previously deemed fit for literature.
In plain terms, this would mean that lines between media and genres are being blurred, especially those between, in this case, speculative and literary fiction, and... whatever genre of the works alluded to, I'd imagine.
David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (the one that was recently adapted into a film) is a good example of pastiche, especially in a chronological sense.Common themes & techniques in pomo fic:
In Railsea, we find a lot of instances of parody and of intertextuality.
I'm going to shamefully steal Wikipedia's paragraph on intertextuality because it perfectly describes what Miéville does in this novel:Intertextuality
Since postmodernism represents (an integrated) concept of the universe in which individual works are not isolated creations, much of the focus in the study of postmodern literature is on intertextuality: the relationship between one text (a novel for example) & another or one text within the interwoven fabric of literary history.
Intertextuality in postmodern literature can be a reference or parallel to another literary work, an extended discussion of a work, or the adoption of a style. In postmodern literature this commonly manifests as references to fairy tales – as in works by Margaret Atwood, Donald Barthelme, & many other – or in references to popular genres such as sci-fi & detective fiction.
Often intertextuality is more complicated than a single reference to another text.
Indeed, Miéville makes many allusions to varied sources, some of them less respectful than others, but most of them pretty funny in a dry, tongue-in-cheek sort of way.
The main work that Miéville parodies here, would be Moby Dick by Herman Melville, first published in 1851 . The latter is ... wait, let me utilize Wikipedia again:
==========Moby-Dick; or, The Whale ... is considered to be one of the Great American Novels. The story tells the adventures of w&ering sailor Ishmael, & his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, comm&ed by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat & bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.
In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, & the metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class & social status, good & evil, & the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs & their places in the universe.
The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, & asides.
The book portrays destructive obsession & monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism.
In Railsea, the names & a gender & a limb or two & a few species are changed, not to mention the landscape. In Railsea, we are looking for our malicious prey, which is a huge mole instead of a whale, while travelling the "railsea" instead of the ocean, in a train instead of a ship. ..& we have more fun. Lots more fun.
Miéville pokes merciless fun with many aspects of Moby Dick, (& other works) to the point that I often laughed out loud. Which brings me to another set of characteristics of po-mo fiction, which fits in with the parodic style of Railsea, being: irony, playfulness & black humor.
Well, these are in ample supply in Railsea. Miéville is pretty inventive with his world-building (Miéville readers know that by now) & in this work, in addition, he peppers the text with clever writerly asides & well-executed drawings.
Moby Dick is not the only text he alludes to though; the text is richly scattered with allusions to especially "adventure" or "boy's" fiction like Kidnapped & Treasure Island By RL Stevenson, including a truly hilarious reference to Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Not sure what else; but here is the list of the most important influences as supplied by CM himself:
Joan Aiken, John Antrobus, the Awdrys Sr. & Jr., Catherine Besterman, Lucy Lane Clifford, F. Tennyson Jesse, Erich Kästner, Ursula le Guin, John Lester, Penelope Lively, Spike Milligan, Charles Platt, & the Strugatsky Brothers.
Wondering about the &? Seems like another Mieville experiment in text==> meaning. The amper&and& symbolize the twisting of the railtracks. I'm not sure if that particular little experiment worked (replacing "and" with "&"), since it seems to irritate many readers, but I must admit that after initially being irritated myself, I soon got used to it & didn't even notice it anymore by the end.
This is one of the things I love about China Miéville: he is courageous! He is prepared to put his money where his mouth i&.China, I <3<3<3<3 you !!! XOXOXO </b>
Looking forward to your next creation.
Full disclosure: Okay, this work is not perfect, perhaps especially due to a curious emotional 'dryness' or restraint. New Moon it is not.
In some respects this makes it a bit dry and nerdy compared to "non-literary" YA fiction out there.
...but if you're a nerd, this provides so many chuckles that it is worth its 5 &tars. Part of why I gave it 5 stars, was because I think China has gained some immense discipline as a writer. A good thing is that Miéville has, for a change, pared down the plot a lot compared to some of his initial works - albeit almost a bit too much this time. On the other hand, stylistically, for me, this work is perfect.
*All illustrations shown here, are from the book, as done by China Miéville himself.
*With thanks to Wikipedia, where you can read more on po-mo fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_literature