The ABC – This Census Taker: Second Discussion

So it’s come to this at last (not really, it was only 100 pages – went by pretty quickly, actually).

Here are your discussion questions. Please … disqus. Come on, y’all, you know this song and dance.

Discussion Questions

This book is set up as a mystery, but in the end, the ‘reveal’ ended up being exactly what the first chapter said that it would be. How do you feel about that?

There is significant geopolitical conflict occurring in the wider world during the time in which this book is set, which at least during certain points has broken out into outright war. It is implied that this conflict is at least in part why the small town must for the most part self-administer it’s own governance. Why do you think that Mieville deliberately avoids providing context for this element of the setting? How does this uniquely portray the plight of forgotten people who bear the brunt of conflict?

The people of the town know very little about the broader conflict concurring elsewhere. The town as a whole offers an unreliable perspective on the wider world. Likewise, the main character is an unreliable narrator, who doesn’t fully understand the family conflict which preempts the events of this story. Investigate the parallelism between how children are affected by domestic violence and how civilians are affected by warfare.

Mieville leaves it ambiguous whether or not the census-takers or the government whom they represent is either good or bad. Why do you think he does this? How does this relate to the theme of civilians in wartime?

Books need structure, which is typically provided through narrative tension and resolution. Mieville begins this book by explaining the tension and resolution, and then spends the rest of the novella convincing you of it’s validity, as it is clouded by the confusion of the main character’s trauma and youth. Is this a fair assessment of his technique, or would you describe it differently?

In the novella, Mieville noticeably switches between first and third person tense. How does this relate to the themes of the work? How does it fit into the framing device?

What was your response to the character of the census-taker who takes him away from the town? Why do you think that the main character chooses to follow in his footsteps?

Who is the census-taker in the book’s title? (hint in comments section – though I expect y’all will get this one)