The trouble with tentacles

Have you ever had one of those moments? The moment when you realise that the book you're reading makes no sense whatsoever. I like China Mieville. His The city and the city was one of my stand-out books of last year. I love his writing style, and his playful use of language; but Kraken is, well just plain weird.

Set in a London dominated by absurd religions - squid worshippers are just one of the bizarre religions on offer - Kraken follows on rather nicely from Can't be ars*d as it's sent against a background dominated by thoughts of an imminent apocalypse. When a giant squid disappears from the Natural History Museum, and a man is found a la ship-in-a-bottle at the same museum, the end-game starts for the most likely apocalypse yet. Billy Darrow, the curator who'd pickled the squid, and Dane - a kraken worshipper, join forces to stop the end-of-the-world.

There's much to enjoy in this daft read. Mieville's use of language is, as ever, glorious. Some of the characters are great, I was especially fond of the militant shabti-figure, Wati - guaranteed to make any fan of Egyptology laugh. While the two big villains of the piece, the evil Goss and his side-kick Subby are brought eerily to life. There were lovely set-piece moments too - I thoroughly enjoyed the thought of cats on picket duty outside the British Library! And it's a great, if odd, portrayal of London. The city viewed as a living breathing entity - fans of Peter Ackroyd will thoroughly appreciate this.

The problem with the overall tale though is that it's just plain daft. There are plenty of moments that are pure Harry Potter - and while they worked within the fantasy world of HP, in Kraken, which treads a fine line between reality and fantasy - a rather-more-magical-than-realist world - they just fail to convince. At times it felt as though Mieville just had too many creative ideas, and he was determined to put them all in. And this ended up dragging the pace of the story back, it was a very turgid sort of read, which probably matched the giant squid pickled for all eternity in a large tank of formalin. If you're into books about creationists trying to unevolve evolution, and men getting eaten by unpleasant sea-creatures you'll love this. If you want to read Mieville at his best try the brilliant The city and the city, but unless you love kalamari avoid this one.


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