Thursday, June 9, 2011

LRB take on Miéville's "Embassytown"

LRB | Sam Thompson | Monsters You Pay to See




The alien language, which is the novel’s driving conceit, is plainly impossible, which is the point: like H.G. Wells in The Invisible Man or The Island of Doctor Moreau, Miéville takes an impossible proposition and works through its implications with rigour. At some moments the novel resembles a thought-experiment in semiotics, except that it’s at least as interested in the tangential oddities its premise entails: because the Hosts can’t lie, they can’t use metaphors, and their limited lexicon of figurative language consists of laborious similes that must be manufactured in reality before they can be spoken. They can say ‘I’m like the rock that was broken and cemented together’ only because the relevant boulder physically exists. The Hosts occasionally call on their human guests to perform this sort of semiotic duty, and as a child Avice is invited to become a simile, submitting to a mysterious and unpleasant experience in a disused restaurant so that the Hosts will henceforth be able to say: ‘We’re like the girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given her.’
So behind on my proper reading. Curse you, internet, curse you! But I just can't quit you ...

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