Title: This Census-Taker
Author: China Miéville
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, Picador
Date of Publication: 25 February 2016
Number of Pages: 210
Rating: 2 stars
Summary: After witnessing a profoundly traumatic event, a boy is left alone in a remote house on a hilltop with his increasingly deranged parent. When a stranger knocks on his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation are over—but by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? Is he the boy’s friend? His enemy? Or something altogether other?
Title: The Secret Dead
Author: S.J. Parris
Date of Publication: 12 September 2013
Number of Pages: 52
Rating: 4 stars
Summary: Naples, 1566. During a sweltering summer, eighteen-year-old Giordano Bruno takes his final vows at San Domenico Maggiore and is admitted to the Dominican Order – despite doubts over his tendency to ask difficult questions. Assisting in the infirmary, Bruno witnesses an illicit autopsy performed on the body of a young woman. Her corpse reveals a dark secret, and Bruno suspects that hers may not have been an accidental death. His investigation leads him to a powerful figure who wants to keep the truth buried – and Bruno is forced to make a choice between his future in the Order, and justice for an innocent victim and her grieving family…
Review: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
This is a tale of two books. Two novella. One, a complete story, the other, a vague, rambling and incomplete work.
The premise of Miéville’s story is interesting but the stranger that arrives only does so in the last few pages. At random moments there are cryptic mentions of men who live by the water and that the father’s wife came from a similar region. Nothing is ever confirmed or denied. People randomly come and go and there seems to be no point to any of it.
Overall, there are too many ideas for a novella and none of the threads are tied up neatly.
Is the boy, the storyteller, a man telling us his past or is he still a boy and the reader is a viewer as events unfold?
Where does the story take place? Is it a modern country but one of poverty and class warfare or is it another world entirely?
Why is the strange disappearance of the mother not investigated?
Why is the father allowed to continue his life without seeming to face any censure?
Why does no one think it strange he makes keys out of random junk?
Why is there a group of kids running around, again, ignored by the adu,its of the town?
Why does the stranger appear, seemingly at random, investigate a deep pit and then convince him to with him to God knows where?
Did anyone else read this as a half thought out commentary on society, misogyny, domestic abuse and kidnapping?
Compare this to Parris’s novella and it’s painfully obvious just how under prepared Miéville’s work is. In The Secret Dead the reader is presented with a neat and precise, start, middle and end. The story, all 52 pages of it is perfectly crafted. It gives the reader a complete story. All the threads are tied up and the only question the reader is left with is, when can I start reading the rest of the series.
I know Miéville didn’t set out to write a bad book as that’s never the intention of a writer but This Census-Taker is a flawed piece of work that simply doesn’t work. I couldn’t recommend it to anyone.