Claire reads King Rat by China Mieville

Words by Claire Hielscher

Published on June 24, 2012

The London underground becomes a labyrinth of myth, music, shadows, and murder, as archaic scores previously unsettled are brought to the fore in China Miéville’s first novel, King Rat.

In Miéville’s London, the silences and noises that make up the city are heightened and exaggerated. The flashes of his monsters are seen in the gusts between overwhelming sound and silence. The shadows and crevices that conceal the unknown places of the city suddenly become the crux of this world; a world that teeters on the edge of the human and the supernaturally lit underground. The once ordinary Saul Garamond stands at the centre of Miéville’s novel as an in-between being; a shifter of sorts amongst the regular world and the underworld that seeks to overthrow it. Upon meeting the mysterious King Rat, a figure whose rat-like qualities are brilliantly melded with his human visage, Saul progresses in his understanding of what he himself is; something not entirely human.

Through King Rat, Miéville takes Saul beyond the familiar, modern London skyline into the ‘real city’. This is King Rat’s version of the city, a reality where the barriers between the human and animal are dissolved and the myths of the past dominate those who lurk in the shadows. The legend of the Pied Piper is reworked by Miéville to incriminate the flute player as villain and murderer. Through passages that are often invigorated with inspired prose, Miéville interweaves the now devastating legend of the Piper’s murderous rampages against the animal world with the Drum and Bass of the London underground. The rolling bass in the too dark nights of London makes the Piper’s mission of complete rat annihilation darker and more animalistic.

There are elements of King Rat that give Miéville away as a first time novelist. Despite this, it is Miéville’s innate ability to impart his understanding of magical realism and myth-making that brings this first complete work together. Just as the Piper seduces followers with his magical flute, Miéville’s embraces his newfound voice to twist a tale that is mellowed in maturity, yet frenzied in its desire to reach the ears of his reader.

In the recent wake of his reworking of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, it is enlightening to gaze at where this Arthur C. Clarke and Hugo award winning author began his literary journey. As King Rat demonstrates, the melding of a mythical past into a fantastical present is not something new to Mieville’s intertextual and inter-genre style. As an emerging writer, some of the earlier pitfalls and seductions of overarching language can be seen at various points throughout King Rat. Regardless, Mieville proves himself early to be a gifted appropriator and interpreter of myths and historical memory.