Mixing It Up – Un Lun Dun

Review – Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

A keeper? Dear God, NO

Un Lun Dun? It’s Un Reed Ubble. (Alas…my first review for the Mixing It Up Challenge. I picked this one for the Horror category. It’s a horrifying book, all right, but not in the genre sense.)

More than anything else, this one reminds me of the kind of movie where interchangeable puppet characters chase each other back and forth blowing things to little, little pieces, for no real reason. Interspersed with plenty of special effects.

The story starts out reasonably well. Two young girls – I’d guess them at what we’d call middle school age in the U.S., around eleven to thirteen or fourteen – have a series of bizarre, unsettling experiences. A fox comes to their school and bows to one of the girls. A bus driver, who may be crazy, says meaningless things. A freak mist causes a car accident – one of the girls is almost run down by her own father. A broken umbrella climbs a wall. All of this weirdness works because the girls react like normal people, with a mixture of denial and growing fear. We’re ready to be afraid with them. It only gets worse when one girl finds her way into a strange building (trailed by her worried friend) and starts compulsively turning mysterious wheels…and suddenly they find themselves in a place that vaguely resembles London, but isn’t.

Why am I complaining, if it’s that well set up? Because the part of the book I’ve described only takes us to page 22, and there are another 407 pages to go. Reading the rest of the book is just as hard as the world-saving, or city-saving, struggle the girls are thrust into. Maybe harder.

During those interminable 407 pages, the two girls – later just one girl – lurch from one lovingly described random strangeness to another. (Roaming bridges! People with heads stuck full of straight pins (and he’s one of the good guys)! Carnivorous giraffes!) Everywhere they go, they meet people (for a certain stretchy definition of people) who either launch into LONG globs of tell-don’t-show exposition, or try to kill the girl(s) in various unpleasant ways. Eventually the good guys are declared the winners, more or less, and the book stops.

Now, apparently this is meant as a children’s story. (I didn’t realize that before selecting it for this challenge, or before buying it. I had heard of China Mieville as a writer for adults.) And the general Scooby-Doo cartoonish feel of the book might entertain young children, if it wasn’t So Stupidly Long. Kids who are old enough to handle the vocabulary and length – the younger siblings of the crowd who made Harry Potter famous – are probably ready for something better written.

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