Friday, 31 May 2013

London Falling Is A Good Book

Or why you should read London Falling by Paul Cornell

London Falling begins with the capture of Rob Toshack,  a preternaturally successful London crime boss. However, rather than being a triumph for the Police whose longterm operation nicked the druglord, things go horribly and bizarrely awry as the hidden powers behind Toshack enact a terrible revenge. A terrible revenge that sees Detective Inspecter James Quill, a Copper of the old school; undercover officers Tony Costain, a man comfortable living beyond the law, and Kevin Sefton, an alienated man who feels split between two worlds; and civilian analyst Lisa Ross, a woman with a zealot's drive and a secret; confronted with the occult underbelly of London and gifted with a terrible Sight. Together these Police must investigate the uncanny and apprehend the ancient power behind Toshack's success.

Functionally, London Falling is a genre bending blend of Detective story, Urban Fantasy, and Horror. It is a beautifully written novel with vivid, complicated characters, a satisfying mystery, and some really clever and creative takes on the included genres. London Falling also very much makes good on the promises of its various genres by being properly suspenseful, engrossingly mysterious, queasingly creepy, and confoundingly mad. It is a very complete and superbly crafted book.

Incidentally, it also has one of the most satisfying and effective sentences I have ever read in a novel. I mean, holy shit, Paul Cornell, you magnificent bastard. You will know it when you see it.

But, all that said, the real magic of London Falling is its conviction in the uncanny. I find the quality of Urban Fantasy and Supernatural Horror experiences is largely tied to how well the author negotiates the strange to sell the magic of the story. Done well, things seem profound and uncanny and massive and tangibly intangible and like, well, magic. But, steer too far into the uncanny, or be injudiciously creative, and things can seem more silly than compelling. It's... the difference between the magic of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys and the less-than-it-could-have-been China Mieville novel Kraken. London Falling pulls off the uncanny brilliantly and with utter sincerity.

London Falling sells the supernatural of its story by constructing a truly remarkable system of dream logic. Every reality defying thing in the novel, no matter how creative, feels valid because of the elaborate set of rules which contextualize them. Rules, of course, that use a completely demented set of values and are presented with the ferver and faith of the most unmedicated schizophrenic. Which, in and of itself, carries a frightening, compelling, instability: London Calling is belief and madness in equal measure. And all of this uncanny is brilliantly contrasted with the logical, lawful, and familiar world of the Police Procedural story elements which grounds, contextualizes, and emphasizes all of the supernatural. As a result, London Falling completely sells its uncanny elements, and at the end of the day this is the lifeblood that truly animates the suspense, the mystery, the horror, and the madness of the story. It's really, really well done.

So, I think it's safe to say I'd recommend London Falling to just about anyone. It's a bit challenging at times, particularly the most daft and spectacular blocks of dream logic, and takes a bit of patience and effort up front (especially sussing some of the English-English if you are, like me, a colonial), but the investment is easily worth it. I'd also like to especially recommend this book to any Science Graduate Student studying for their Comprehenssive/Qualifying Exam, because the juxtaposition of Cornell's madness and the grinding formal logic of Scientific literature is a proper mind fuck. So yeah, absolutely go out and try London Falling.

(Fair warning though, the novel itself might be a magical artifact, as my copy ate my Berlin-transit-stub-turned-bookmark, did not yield it back despite intensive searching, and then regurgitated it to me most of a week later from a region of book I had already read. It was uncanny.)

No comments:

Post a Comment