In This Census-Taker, a young boy witnesses a traumatic event. Afterward, he’s kept alone in his hilltop house with his increasingly erratic and menacing father. Then one day a man knocks on the door who identifies himself as a census-taker. Is he the boy’s ticket out? And who does he work for?
Like a lot of Mieville’s work, this one has a darkly fantastic element to it. The setting is poor and hardscrabble and mysterious, like something out of Soviet Eastern Europe. There’s also an element of political dystopia, though we only ever see hints of it. There’s something other-worldly about this hilltop and the town below.
A lot about this novel comes down to hints. A lot happens off-stage or is a half-remembered piece of the boy’s history. There’s a strong sense of ambiguity which adds to the creepy and uncertain feel of the novel.
Mysterious, absorbing, and dark, this slim and deceptively simple novel is a good choice for readers looking for something original and with plenty of style and atmosphere. Perhaps a good choice for fans of Neil Gaiman or Haruki Murakami.