China Mieville. The Tain. PS Publishing, 2003.

The pleasure of reading Mieveille’s trio of well-received novels (King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar) is one that awaits me. Mind you, on my current rate of reading novel-length fiction he will probably have a couple of dozen titles published by the time I start the first of them.

So I can review ‘The Tain’ without having any preconceptions from having read any of his fiction.

The opening passages, set in an almost deserted City of London were very reminscent to me of the likes of Wyndham’s ‘Day of the Triffids’, ome of Ballard’s enervating London lain-waste stories, and the memorably 70s BBC series ‘The Survivors’. Doubly chilling for the rarity of the London setting – I’m sure that whilst I was freaked out by some of Stephen King’s horror fiction (eg The Stand), the fact that a lot of that genre, both fiction and filmic, is set in the US, makes the horror a little more distant.

Mieville’s setting is perilously close to home – in fact, the Brunswick Shopping Centre was a literal stone’s throw from where I worked for the best part of 15 years!

The story is taken from Jorge Luis Borge’s ‘The Book of Imaginary Beings’ – which ponders the nature the reflections in our mirrors.

This conceit is doubly chilling. Firstly in that whilst the story is a post-apocalypse/post-invasion scenario, it is one which does not have a rational explanation (viruses, alien invasions etc). Secondly, the fantastical explanation is simply proferred and the reader has to accept it.

The plot interwines the story of Sholl, a man who has to date survived the horrors of the beings that previously were constrained on the other side of mirrors, but which now are raping the city and those of the population which have yet to flee, and that of one of the creatures with whom humanity is battling.

Sholl meets up with an army unit, and they march on the British Museum, where a final confrontation is to be made. The ending is not a textbook one, and the image of the slobbering monsters descending the stairs to ravage the soldiers, is a macabre one which sticks in the memory.

A slight volume, but (especially so for those living or working in London) a disturbing, vivid one.

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