THIS CENSUS-TAKER by China Miéville


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Miéville (Three Moments of an Explosion, 2015, etc.) has two main modes: the pyrotechnics of a puzzle maker and the austere depth of a mythmaker. Brief and dreamlike, his latest novel is in his simpler, stronger style.

The unnamed narrator—called “the boy,” “I,” or occasionally “you”—looks back on his childhood from his future as some sort of writer or record-keeper. The setting has a post-apocalyptic feel, with savaged machinery, orphaned urchins squatting in shacks built on a bridge, and generators that run on wood scraps, but it also has the timeless provinciality of a village in a fairy tale. The boy lives alone with his parents on a hill above town, where his mother grows their food in her garden and his father serves as a witchy locksmith: “His customers would come up from the town and ask for the things for which people usually ask—love, money, to open things, to know the future, to fix animals, to fix things, to be stronger, to hurt someone or save someone, to fly—and he’d make them a key.” One day when he’s about 9, the boy witnesses something he describes first as his mother killing his father, and later as his father killing his mother. Backtracking through his childhood, we see his mother as a force of chilly stability and his father as a warmer but more terrifying presence, a loving man who periodically bludgeons animals and perhaps even people to death and throws them down a seemingly bottomless hole in the hill. What really happened between the narrator’s parents? Is the boy in danger? Can he escape? Is escape ever truly possible? Is accountability?

A deceptively simple story whose plot could be taken as a symbolic representation of an aspect of humanity as big as an entire society and as small as a single soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-96732-4
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2015


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