Bas-Lag Reading Project Part Seven: Perdido Street Station
“Crisis,” the penultimate part of Perdido Street Station. How should I take this denouementt moment of Mieville’s first Bas-Lag novel? How? There is nothing that really stands out as something to discuss. But, there is the conclusion itself. What I mean is, how does Mieville handle the final conflict between the Slake Moths and Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his friends? And the surprising resolve to the Motley subplot? In a way, I would argue that Mieville has a strong conclusion which is undercut by the resolution of the Motley subplot. And this extends into “Judgment,” the final part.
I will not deny that Mieville can write exciting and horrifying scenes. Just read the death of the Runt, the last chapter of “The Glasshouse,” and the penultimate chapter of “Crisis.” Those chapters are simply amazing. The sheer power of Mieville’s prose just plows me away.
This is especially true of the death of the three “unimportant” Slake Moths. The battle between Issac’s group, the Militia, Jack Half-a-Prayer, and the Slake Moths is amazing and exciting. I can never put the book down when I get to this chapter.
But, if you look at “Crisis” in relation of “The Glasshouse,” then I am not so sure the denouement really works. At the end of “The Glasshouse,” things are looking low for the protagonists. Shadrach, Tansell, and Pigeon are dead. There is only Isaac, Yag, Derkhan, and the uncertain Pengefinchess. But if you would think that things only get worse from there, no. The beginning of “Crisis” deals with Isaac’s plan to kill the moths using his crisis engine (this is rather obvious given the name of the section and the importance of the crisis engine). The Council shows how efficient it is by having its congregation lay two miles of cord from Griss Twist to Perdido Street Station. The only sense of threat, of conflict, comes with the final two chapters. These chapters wrap up everything save one- Yag’s crime.
Indeed, in a way, this is how Mieville operates in this Perdido Street Station. Threats, conflict, crisis only comes (or rears its head) towards the end of each part (after the Slake Moth escape). I am not certain that it this method is good or bad. The conflict, the crisis, seems to be more of a wave, with moments of relative narrative calm before moments of absolute crisis.
One thing that really bothers me with the conclusion of Perdido Street Station is the resolution to the Motley subplot. Lin is alive and still working on Motley’s statue. But is it necessary beyond just ending the narrative on a downer (Lin’s mind is not completely drunk but she is rendered permanently brain damaged)? I don’t know. But it seems that Mieville loves this kind of ending. Of the novels of his that I have read, all of them end on a similar note- in the heat of the protagonist’s victory, there is a sudden event that snatches everything (or almost everything) away from the protagonist. In Perdido Street Station, Isaac is victorious against the Slake Moths and is reunited with Lin. But then he loses her all over again as her mind, though not drunk, is practically destroyed. And then there is the problem of the final part, almost epilogue of exile.
Another thing I want to discuss is the problem of the Militia. I know that the Slake Moths are not really enough of an antagonist to accomplish all that Mieville wants to do. They just don’t despite all of their fearsomeness and power. They just don’t impress me. Because of this, there is the need to make extra bad guys. The Militia, the Cactacae, Motley, etc. are all examples of this. Now, Motley has a good reason to be antagonistic towards Isaac- he thinks that Isaac is trying to muscle in on his racket. But why couldn’t there have been some sort of arrangement between Issac and the Militia and the Cactacae. But he doesn’t. Mind you, Isaac comes out and states why he doesn’t just tell the government everything and let them deal with it. He doesn’t trust the government, he doesn’t like it. Isaac and Derkhan are seditionists. And this does enrich and complicate the plot. Their antipathy towards New Crobuzon’s government makes it difficult for them to see the government as anything other than an antagonist.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know why Mieville does this. Politics. You can’t escape it, now matter how hard you try. And I am not critiquing Mieville’s politics. Hell, I’m as left wing as he is.