It is with both heavy heart and eyelid that I confess that I cannot finish China Mieville’s latest offering Kraken. Whereas I have been wildly amazed and fascinated with his imaginative offerings like Perdido Street Station, The Scar and his short story collection Looking For Jake, Kraken has cemented within my fragile psyche a valuable rule for my slow reading habits, namely: don’t read shit (and I use that term non-insultingly) that’s too long and underdeveloped.
If it were simply just long I may have actually finished it by now, but because of his underdeveloped-ness in nearly all aspects of the work, the combination of long-windedness and courageous circumnavigation in terms of character development, setting and pace, not only do I feel “disappointed” in that uneasy parental way (and mind you, I’m probably younger than Mieville), I am simply too upset about it to let it go.
You see, Mieville is a fantastic writer. I am anxiously looking forward to reading his recent award nominated City and the City, but despite the five hundred plus pages of Kraken, I can’t help but feel he went through the motions with this one. Or rather, he simply overextended himself and spread his chunky, steampunky imagination too thin on this particularly under-toasted canvas.
The story is about London, its competing cults and the guardian forces surrounding those cults in an age where the archaic meets the digital. Mieville creates the atmosphere by mentioning all the different groups and entities, but never really describes them in depth, even in passing. Much of what we gather is through dialogue, particularly of the naive and bewildered main character, Billy Harrow. Other characters, like The Tattoo, Dane, Wati, Collingswood, and Grisamentum, while all very interesting and mysterious initially, simply fade away into their own colorful dialogue without any real descriptive depth into their character. Quite simply, too many characters, too little detail. Furthermore, in his appreciation beaming technology and stun settings, Mieville attempts to bridge fantasy with science fiction in the work, and almost succeeds; however, an undertaking like this cannot compete with so many other variables in an already overreaching work. Lastly, the feel and mystique of London is really lost in the comings and goings of these events and people; perhaps this a book specifically written for Londoners, but the description however, simply didn’t emanate.
The more I think about it, the more I feel Kraken is simply a thought experiment, a literary dry-erase board full of image dropping and references to pop/sub culture than it is a tightly coherent work of fiction. It’s simply too busy, a overly-written mash of fancy that never really coalesces.