Posts from 15th February 2005

Feb 05

King Rat by China Mieville

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 235 views

King Rat by China Mieville

I’ve enthused wildly over his second and third novels (Perdido Street Station and The Scar) here, and finally got around to his first. The others are set in SF-fantasy worlds, while this one is in London, but hardly the London we know. Our protagonist comes home to find himself a suspect for the murder of his father, and is busted out of jail by a more or less human-looking being who claims to be the king of the rats, and who tells him he is half rat himself. The London we see is underneath and above the London we know, and in its interstitial spaces. It’s powerfully depicted – the prose here isn’t much less wonderful than in the two next two novels, atmospheric and compelling – and pretty convincing for a fantasy view, but he does rather over-valourise drum & bass, bizarrely. I guess to him it represents another kind of dark alternate world, a dangerous and exciting underbelly; I’m a fan of the music myself, but I didn’t feel this element of the novel quite carried the charge he thought it did; and if your familiarity is more Roni Size than Ed Rush, this will be even more true.

But the real problem is the story. It has several good set-pieces, including the climax, but unfortunately the whole thing is rather based on the hoary old Pied Piper story. Mieville does a good job of turning this Piper into something scary, but he is still a one-trick pony, and a fundamentally rather silly figure, so Mieville is always swimming against the tide here. He also grafts a pretty absurd political message onto the otherwise excellent aftermath of the big finale.

I wholeheartedly recommend his next couple, but don’t expect anything like as much from this one. I liked it, but if I’d read this first I might not have come back for more.


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Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t all the candies on sale now that the holiday has passed? Score! February 15th should be the real day of celebration.


FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 1,168 views


I’m not sure what it means. That said, you can hear this if you go over here for the next week or so and wait for the fifth song. It’s a lovely little thing because while it has that quick, sharp rush so familiar from Mr. Darnielle’s songs, the instrumentation is all cello, and the contrast of voice and strings works snappily where the tendency of so many others would be to slow it all down and be vaguely melancholy. And of course this further shows that Mr. D still loves him his pop and knows how to make it work.

I have always enjoyed sucking bones

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 554 views

I have always enjoyed sucking bones

Browsing for dinner components the other week in the supermarket, I examined with great interest a couple of chunky pieces of oxtail. Now these haven’t made any significant appearance for a while, what with BSE panic and the disinterest of the general populace in cooking anything that isn’t chicken breast, so it was with an aura of expectant smugness that I purchased a pack for, as they say, a song. Slightly trepidatious, I prepared them for Sunday supper, sealing in seasoned flour and then braising gently with roughly chopped onions and carrots and red wine (loosely according to the gospel of Nigel Slater). After a couple of hours they were lumps of sticky chewy melting cartiligenous gorgeousness, and the velvety wine gravy and sweet juicy carrots weren’t bad either.

So, is it the (low-effort) time investment that puts people off cooking stuff like this at home? I arranged the ingredients in my lovely cast-aluminium pot up at half-time during the rugby and then left it well alone, adding a roasting tin of par-boiled potatoes tossed in duck fat to the oven after an hour or so, but it does take a good swathe of lazy afternoon to organise. Or is it the graphic anatomical lesson that results once the deliciously gooey flesh has been sucked off the vertebrae? We fitted our two together and speculated about how far along the tail they’d come from, poking fork tines curiously into the spinal canal. I can certainly see how it could be a little alarming, but once you accept that your slab of beef was once part of a muscle moving a cow’s leg around (or more likely a tender underused bum-steak) it’s foolhardy not to embrace knowledge of the skull beneath the skin that comes with picking apart chicken wings or a shoulder of lamb. It’s better for you than mechanically reclaimed sausage meat, that’s for sure.

Messy individual joint type things like lamb shanks (as Robster pointed out while licking his fingers, returned to the posh-restaurant fold by the then-spiky-haired-quasi-bad-boy Gary Rhodes back in the day) have hoven back into view over the culinary event horizon over the past couple of years due at least partially to the renewly perceived sexiness of solid manly British fayre (cf universal [well, not from vegetarians] slavering over St. John). Maybe the humble oxtail is also due a revival after a long period in the wilderness, and I’m not talking soup here. Whatever, I’m going to stock up the freezer post-haste.

Animal Love Is Blind

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I am a pet lover myself and not a heartless man, but honestly, where is the dog? Where?!