The iron wheel began to spin, slowly at first, then faster and faster. The room grew darker. As the light lessened, so did the sound.
Deeba and Zanna stared at each other in wonder. The noise of the cars and vans and motorbikes outside grew tinny…. The wheel turned off all the cars and turned off all the lamps. It was turning off London. Zanna and Deeba are two girls leading ordinary lives, until they stumble into the world of UnLondun, an urban Wonderland where all the lost and broken things of London end up… and some of its lost and broken people too. Here, discarded umbrellas stalk with spidery menace, carnivorous giraffes roam the streets, and a jungle sprawls beyond the door of an ordinary house.
UnLondun is under siege by the sinister Smog and its stink-junkie slaves; it is a city awaiting its hero. Guided by a magic book that can’t quite get its facts straight, and pursued by Hemi the half-ghost boy, the girls set out to stop the poisonous cloud before it burns everything in its path. They are joined in their quest by a motley band of UnLondun locals, including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas, Obaday Fing, a couturier whose head is an enormous pincushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle.
The world of UnLondun is populated by astonishing frights and delights that will thrill the imagination.
©2007 China Mieville (P)2012 Macmillan Digital Audio
"Easily the equal of David Mitchell or Zadie Smith.... Miéville’s work is thrillingly imaginative, politically edgy, immensely witty and utterly unforgettable.... a bold and dynamic book." (Scotland on Sunday)
"An instant classic... the bizarre, the grotesque and slightly creepy." (Daily Telegraph)
"Full of delightful and horrifying inventions.... Un Lun Dun is clever and funny but scary, too" (Observer)
"This teeming, inventive tale of friendship, duty, courage and loyalty makes extraordinary use of the ordinary." (Sunday Times)
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"Excellent! This is how a message novel should be"
I don't know. didn't read the print version.
Like the best of message fiction, the messages come in to the reader subconsciously, never becoming even a slight bit preachy; and never interfering with the story.
Pollution. Using economically-lower countries as dumping ground for waste. The experience of a subcontinental-origin person in London. And the biggest hit for me was the sublime turnaround of the sidekick. The Neville Longbottoms of the world rise up to take their rightful position in this book, and how!
No. And she is brilliant.
Small touches of the oh-yes-that's-right.
When Deeba tries to convince herself, during her first return to London, that she does not need to return, because everything will be fine. --- and then, at the back of her mind -- and anyway, she would not know even if they aren't.
So true. "how many times can a man turn his head / pretending he just doesn't see"...
"In Praise of Leading Sidekicks"
London teens Zanna (Susanna) Moon and her best friend Deeba Resham seem like a typical heroine and sidekick. In addition to her cool name, Zanna has a certain charisma, being slender, tall, blond, and good at school and sports, while Deeba is short, round, black-haired, and dark-skinned. When the story opens, for at least a month Zanna has been the focus of bizarre events. Clouds have formed her face in the sky, strange men and women have approached her and called her "Shwazzy," and as the story proceeds a fox and some dogs bow to her, sparrows circle in a halo around her head, and her French teacher says, "choisi" ("Shwazzy!?). An Adventure is surely heading for Zanna. Indeed, she soon manages to transport Deeba and herself from London to UnLondon through a membrane separating two universes, one holding our cities, the other "abcities" like UnLondon.
In China Mieville's YA/children's novel Un Lun Dun (2007), it develops that through different points of leakage or access, discarded things (trash, old vehicles, broken umbrellas, etc.) from London find their way into UnLondon, where they become sentient (feral rubbish!) and or get repurposed, as in "moil" (modestly obsolete in London) buildings made of things like vinyl records. This applies to immigrants to UnLondon, like obsolete London bus conductors. And, as Mieville loves hybridizing, there are plenty of bizarre hybrids in UnLondon: a bird in a cage who "rides" atop a headless man; a swarm of bees in the shape of a man; a tailor who uses his full head of pins and needles to make clothes fabricated from the pages of books; and so on. Mieville's imagination is in full spate here. The UnSun is in the shape of a donut, our sun its missing center. The UnLondon Eye is a giant water wheel.
Mieville writes some neat characters. Honestly, bland Zanna is not one of them, so it is a relief when, early on, she is left hors du combat, and her plucky sidekick Deeba has to step forward. (At one point Deeba indignantly asks whether she's supposed to be the comical or the stupid sidekick.) Thenceforth the novel is mostly a pleasure to read. There is the de rigueur YA fantasy evil enemy, out to rule or destroy UnLondon (and maybe a lot more), but the Smog is politically pointed: an ever-growing, sentient, chemically poisonous wannabe fire god with a knack for making nasty allies, like the Concern (UnLondon "business people with plans"), some London politicians, and Brokkenbroll the Unbrellissimo (!). And some especially thick and ineffectual adults, the propheseers (supposedly well-versed in the past and future of UnLondon), can't believe the kids as to what's going on. Luckily, in UnLondon Deeba makes friends: Obaday Fing (the book-page tailor); Hemi, a half-ghost, half-boy "alternative shopper" from Wraithtown; Conductor Jones, an immigrant from London; and the book, a temperamental, talking tome responsible for the prophecy incorrectly identifying Zanna as the Chosen One.
UnLondon is a place where what is said correctly or incorrectly often has tangible consequences, the majority of Mieville's creations being inspired or developed by language. His novel is woven from neologisms, etymologies, plays on words, things lost in translation, and so on. For example. The phlegm (as in calm, stolid) effect means that Deeba's family won't miss her when she's in UnLondon. Jones is a bus conductor, which means that in addition to taking passengers where they want to go, at a pinch he can conduct electricity as a weapon. And when our umbrellas are broken and discarded, they fall into UnLondon, where they become unbrellas, and when repaired in UnLondon, they become rebrellas. Did I mention the dread black windows of Webminster? Or the utterlings, words made bizarre flesh? Or the smombies (zombies controlled by the Smog)? Or the binjas (trash bin ninjas)? O-or the legendary UnGun? And the different registers of English are fun to read, ranging from Deeba's teenage argot ("manky," "innit," "I'm blatantly coming back," etc.) to the bishops' posh and the propheseers' educated speech ("May I say. . . gather you lost a comrade. Awful business. Dreadfully sorry," etc.). Mieville even tosses in references to the likes of Harry Potter, Batman and Robin, and Bartleby the Scrivener. It all makes reading the novel a lot of fun.
As for Mieville's writing, it ranges from great to clunky, mostly falling in between. The following examples find him on his game:
"The air was growling and rumbustious."
"In the light of the full loon."
"Just because half my family are unquiet dead," he hissed, "why should I like this sort of thing?"
"It was clammy-looking and sickly pale. It padded like a clumsy cat. Its body was a pudgy hairless lion's, but its head was that of an enormous, blindly groping earthworm. It nosed into the bricks and concrete, turning them by some chemical exudations into mulch."
The audiobook reader Karen Cass does a fine job, doing a prime Smog (a creepy wheezing voice), convincing Deeba, stuffy scholars, and so on. The only drawback with the audiobook is that it's missing Mieville's many illustrations of his novel, many of which are quirky, grotesque, and neat.
I wish the book had fewer (than 99) and longer chapters and sentences; it tries too hard to join the short sentence, paragraph, and chapter YA trend. Too many action scenes come down to something like, "Deeba and Hemi ran." Plenty of things may not hold up under scrutiny. I wonder why Mieville introduces and then never uses an UnLondon travelcard. I wonder why all objects don't become animate in UnLondon rather than only ones that pique his interest. But his fertile imagination, language fantasy, sidekick reversal, and timely antagonists more than compensate for minor flaws. And readers who like the Fairyland books of Catherynne M. Valente or politically pointed contemporary versions of linguistic fantasies like the Alice books or The Phantom Tollbooth should like Un Lun Don.
"This is a childrens book"
I expected China Mieville to deliver as usual - but instead I get a childrens book.
Someone ought to told me.
Well, it's plain out sily in comparison. It got characters and depth - but the story line just doesn't hold.
pretty much nothing :-(
"Teenagers in Neverwhere but uniquely appealing"
Alterative Londons, I've read a few.
Neverwhere [Neil Gaiman] and Undone [BBC Radio Series] were world definers for me but but there are others such as Sixty-One Nails [Mike Shevdon] which whilst enjoyable fell slightly flat. China Mieville's Un Lun Dun belongs in the second category.
I once was a teenage girl, and I live in London. Perhaps this is one of the many books best enjoyed as a teenager but there are many parts that appeal to the adult listener. His Un Lun Dun is comprehensible in a way that the real London isn't. There are many comic moments, and a plethora of characters with a full-range of believability.
It's well-paced and his world is involving despite a few ideas that he didn't manage to sell. I would recommend this if you enjoy the genre or if you're a teenage girl since everyone loves being the main character ;).
"For Children, not Young Adults"
I'd like to preface by saying I'm a huge fan of China Mieville's Bas-Lag books. Perdido Street Station is one of my favourites, and Iron Council is not far behind.
However, Un-Lun-Dun was a poor listen. It's marketed as 'young adult', which is fine, but to me it read as children's book.
There are some interesting juxtapositions in this book between London and Un-Lun-Dun, some interesting images, but nothing really gripping. The plot was predictable, the characters (with the exception of Deeba) bland and two-dimensional, and the story's stakes were never really explained. The title of each chapter (each chapter must surely only be one page long) is announced at its beginning, and the title pretty much gives the game away.
If you live in London and have a child you'd like to interest in fantasy novels then this would be a great book to give them.
If you're over 16, it makes me sad to say, forget it.
"Young reader book"
Not really. It was full of Mieville's usual fabulous creations but I found it rather inconequential and even a little patronizing in style, clearly aimed at a younger audience. I did complete the listening, while walking, cycling, gardening . . . . . .
I had to listen to the Perdido Street trilogy twice before I could fully appreciate them. No problem here. Creative and inventive but much simpler in construct and style.
She read well and perhaps was ideally suited to the target audience. Maybe its an age thing but I found her annoying, contributing to the feelling of immaturity and rather patronizing.
Listen to something else.
This book is very inventive and filled with fabulous creations. It was original and pre-dates Gaimens's Neverwhere and the children's London books of Aaronovitch which also cover a secret London underword. The mistake was probably mine and I really cannot judge a book aimed at a different audience. This is not the first time I have made this mistake and it would be useful if the audience was made clear in the book description. This is particularly true of fantasy where they are not easy to spot.
"totally absorbed and always unexpected"
Never knew where the story was going but loved the journey. A real insight into why the cloud is so scarey
I found the narrator's accent for the main characters to be a little hard to swallow.
I changed to another book but was told by my brother it gets better later on.
"Not as good as his other books"
Not a patch on his other books - this one is written for teens. Word word word word
"Reads like a children's book"
Found the narrator's tone either whingey or unsuitably lighthearted. It definitely broke the tension or immersion in parts of the story, really ruining it sometimes. Overall her tone would be better suited to a children's novel, where nothing is ever tense. Would definitely not purchase audiobooks with this narrator again. The novel itself is apparently a young adult book, but between the simplistic plot and the narrator I really did not find the novel engaging. I ended up not finishing it.
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