The marvellous, we learn from this marvellous and strange little book, need not even be a question of subject matter at all. It is optic, an angle of vision, a new-ground lens applied to a world that, through it, swims and bleeds and discloses what it would not have done otherwise.
This Census-Taker is a small, quiet and gentle book with murder at its center. It's a beautiful chocolate that you bite into and find filled with blood. It is Miéville at his most sparse, his most controlled and restrained.
At its most obtuse moments, This Census-Taker feels as if it had been crafted out of the cast-off fragments of an unfinished Samuel Beckett novel. And yet occasional images of unusual beauty await the attentive and patient.
This Census-Taker is a book about what writing can accomplish, about what is enabled or erased by filtering the complexity of the world into representational forms. It is also a novel about trauma, and to some degree it is traumatizing to read — in a productive, provocative way ... The story’s sentences continuously slip between third- and first-person narrations, capturing a tension between the narrator’s intimate experience of the events in question and his complex (and traumatic) emotional distancing from these same events ... This Census-Taker asks us to transcend hope and hate, to open our eyes to the strange new world lying dormant within the ruins of the world we see around us, and to see what might emerge from beyond the realm of what can be counted.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, the tale will leave bits and pieces—some beautiful, some haunting—festering on your mind. Describing a discarded doll (“Years of decay had eroded its rudimentary features and drawn it an intricate new mildew face, from which I ran.”), Miéville packs a lifetime of nightmares into a single paragraph.
China Miéville’s slim new novel offers more questions than answers. To read it is like entering a chilly mist that obscures your vision, never clearing. This may be unsettling for the “Inception”-averse — those who need resolve — but for the rest of us it’s a moody, ethereal read, and a strange joy to get lost in.