China Miéville's Kraken is an unreadable mess -- a fascinating, memorable, unreadable mess. It's got much of what I look for in fiction: a clever, original plot, complex characters, challenging language. But it's so overwritten, and Miéville is so enamored of his own ideas that it just grinds to a halt about halfway through, brought down by the weight of all its excess baggage.
Miéville writes slipstream fiction -- stories that straddle the boundary between realism and fantasy, and in Miéville's case that eschew traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes like robots and vampires.
Kraken is about a formaldehyde-preserved giant squid (Architeuthis) that goes missing from the British Museum, and Billy, a museum curator who goes on a quest to find out what happened to it. But really (as Sarah Lyall, writing in the New York Times, says), that is like saying that King Lear is about property rights. Kraken is about a secret squid-worshipping religious cult; Kraken is about an urban army of sorcerers with their own reasons for wanting the squid (and the internecine warfare that erupts over who controls the squid); Kraken is about an obscure branch of the London police force dedicated to tracking the movements of the magical underworld.
In his enthusiasm for introducing us to all these different actors and subplots, Miéville loses all forward momentum. The book ceases to be about where the squid went and just becomes about all this other extraneous flash.
For pages and pages, Billy wanders around London with Dane, former member of the squid cult, and they encounter all these other weird folk and mysterious events, but they hardly find out anything at all about who might have the squid. And eventually, I just grew tired of all the smoke and mirrors and I couldn't keep track of who was whom, and who might want the squid or not, and it just didn't matter anymore.
Miéville lost me, and I couldn't finish the book.
Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.