In my quarter-century and more in Japan, I've been struck at how much the Japanese, following a tradition that may go back to Confucius or Lao Tzu, see the virtue of keeping the self out of things. This may be compounded by the fact that for so long they have had to share so little space with so many: the typical Japanese occupies a house with 117 square feet per person, less than a quarter of the space a typical American occupies.
No-shows are a commonplace, though often hidden, part of the process of scientific discovery. Theories predict. That’s their job. Ever since Isaac Newton and his co‑conspirators in the 17th century consummated their revolutionary programme of subjecting nature to mathematics, this has come to mean that particular solutions to systems of equations can be interpreted as physical phenomena. If a given mathematical representation hasn’t yet matched up with some phenomenon in the real world, it becomes a prediction waiting for its verification. But what happens when the verification never arrives – when the prediction fails to find its match in nature? When do you finally take ‘no’ for an answer?
The piles of stuff we might need someday are an argument that we will always be around to need them. The plans to revisit those photos and take up again that course of study, the books we fully intend to finally read assure us that there will be enough time to do so. Mementos presume the ongoing existence of a rememberer. Yes, all of that is a lie, but it’s a necessary lie. And all the joy in the world can’t really compensate for having to let that go.
Laurence Scott can identify the moment of his own transformation from a three-dimensional to the “four-dimensional human” of his book’s title. In the early 2000s he was invited to La Cave, a cosy, elegant pub in Dublin, with his university classmates and his generous tutor, who ordered champagne for all. The students were enthralled and exhilarated, feeling they had truly arrived. “You would have to have been a fool not to have thought highly of yourself” in that gathering, he writes, when something interrupted their “perfect camaraderie”: “his thigh fluttered” with the hum of his mobile phone and a text from a friend prowling around in the world outside the pub. In millennial Dublin, a mobile phone was still a curiosity and texting was an utter novelty. “The champagne arrived and was poured,” he reports, “but my mind was up and gone in the dark streets, not simply dreaming but fixing plans.” He was caught out in the midst of what should have been the sociable bonding of a glasses-clinking toast. A classmate laughed at “the sordid finger-work” that he was engaged in under the table with his phone, and his tutor gently but publicly embarrassed him by chiding him for it.
This Census Taker is a small, quiet and gentle book with murder at its center. It's a beautiful chocolate that you bite into and find filled with blood. It is Miéville at his most sparse, his most controlled and restrained — giving us a world defined by a broken carburetor, the sound of a walk being swept, a pantry full of mushrooms and spiders, the distant flickering of neon. And while the blind spots of the boy at its heart — the things he does not know, the questions he does not ask — may drive you crazy, the questions that Miéville leaves itching in your brain at the turn of the final page are almost as interesting as the (few) truths that have been uncovered.