Perdido Street Station

March 20, 2011

GOD DAMMIT should I just change the name of this blog to “the I Am Sick of Rape Culture Book Blog?” I just finished Perdido Street Station and it was chugging along so nicely, the whole way, I was so into it, like the monsters were cool and the people got so beat up, and the desperation in the hospital scene was absolutely phenomenal- and then in the last 20 pages, here’s the sexual assault! It’s like okay yes I get that this is a total bummer. The book club I started at my store to discuss it is called the Total Bummer Book Club. But… y’know it was the good kind of total bummer up until that last twenty pages- the heroes are a motley crew oppressed by the privileged who sort of triumph, against all odds, against a scary monster problem that’s one of the heroes’ fault. And like, the characters whose oppression is a metaphor for (primarily) racial or ethnic oppression, they have actual honest-to-god inner emotional lives! The scene where Lin is thinking about her relationship with her ethnic or racial or xenian community is another one that’ll stick with me; and I guess in retrospect what happens to Lin is representative of that fact that, when you get down to it, like a lot of manarchist/man…ialist, I guess, like dudebro radical socialists?, just doesn’t do a good job with women’s experiences of gender-based oppression (uh eg sexism I guess).

And here be spoilers:

Just, like, he does a good job with Lin. She is probably the most interesting character in the book. And I would even be okay with the fact that she gets it the worst in the end, if it weren’t for the fact that, y’know, as soon as we see deeply into her three dimensions, she becomes the kidnapped pawn girlfriend and disappears out of the story. Which again might even be fine if not for the fact that just before the end of the book we find out that one of the characters we’re been rooting for is in this whole mess in the first place because of something mysterious to do with rape.

And then the way Mieville deals with the rape just doesn’t work. It’s a kind of rape in another culture, that someone in our culture can’t understand or judge. Uh, okay, fine. Then we hear all about Yagharek’s pain and suffering and how much he feels bad because he committed this kind of sexual assault that we can’t understand. Like, okay, yes, and in the world of the book that makes sense, it’s not like it feels out of place- but just, like, in the world outside the book, I can’t think of a good reason for Mieville to go “now I’ll introduce sexual assault to this narrative.” Y’know? And in the last twenty pages there’s a lot of sexual assault. So why would he as the author decide to bring that in? I mean okay sure it’s a bummer and the whole point of the book is that it’s one long bummer but then why introduce the moral-ambiguity-around-this-kind-of-sexual-assault idea? It just completely took me out of the world of the book and made me question, I think for the first time in the now four books I’ve read by him, whether I trust him as an author completely. I mean, I’ll finish the Scar, and I’ll probably read King Rat and Un Lun Dun and whatever else he publishes, but… I don’t know, the theme of “the regretful rapist” that ends up being retroactively applied to the novel seems like an enormous misstep, especially in a book that metatextually addresses complex things like racism, fatphobia, classism, the prison-industrial complex, socialism, anti-governmental organizing, and unions so seemingly effortlessly. Y’know? Why then, at the end- just to punch me in the belly one last time really hard, I guess, but it is a shitty punch I wish hadn’t been there.

And I mean that makes me question: maybe it is as stressful to read the way he writes about cultural segregation if you don’t have all the racial/cultural privilege I have. I don’t know. It’s just, for me, y’know, he fucked it up at the end. Maybe, like in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, I can write “this book ends here” and draw a line right before Kar’uchai shows up, ’cause then this book would earn five skulls on fire with guts on ’em.


4 Responses to “Perdido Street Station”

  1. Panzer23 Says:

    I can agree with you that the last 20 pages or so seem completely rushed, but I might put that at the editors feet as opposed to the authors. I mean, my guess is that he had and has alot more to say about the subject, but when the editor saw that the book was about 1000 pages longer that what was oringinally intended he probably had to cut it down.
    Fair arguement?

  2. Well it wasn’t that it was rushed, it was like, what did it accomplish to bring up rape here, to have it turn out that we were pretty much rooting for a rapist the whole book? “Rape is complicated” is bullshit, even in the context of a society we don’t understand, especially considering the fact that this book exists in a society we *do* understand. You know? He did such a good job with oppression the whole book and then suddenly, here is a sexual assault subplot. I was just done with sexual assault subplots when I read this. Still am, actually. Unnecessary, different tone, irresponsible, and upsetting.

  3. mordicai Says:

    This is basically what I had to say in 2007!

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