The idea that cities are magic isn’t a new one. There’s a kind of everyday magic to the way that every city has its own identity – the way a city’s shape, its climate, its population, and its history combine to create something recognisable as New York, or London, or Copenhagen, or wherever.
Dean Koontz taps into that bizarre alchemy, and brings his city to life as a mysterious woman with feathers in her hat and a keen interest in one specific inhabitant: a nine-year-old wannabe musician called Jonah.
At various points in his life, as riots and terrorism rock the city around him, Jonah encounters the city-woman, and through her finds a way to survive all the horror he’s seen. Art and architecture play their parts, but really it’s the city itself that looks out for Jonah.
It’s a weird idea, and Koontz wisely doesn’t spend much time trying to explain it. He just lets the weirdness seep in around the edges, adding some sparkle to what might otherwise be kind of a depressing story.
Koontz’s prose is a pleasure to read, packed with invitingly pillowy description, and the gentle optimism of The City is comforting even at its darkest moments.
It sometimes feels like the book is reaching towards some profound revelation, but disappointingly it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
There are just too many things going on and too many ideas bobbing around for the hurried conclusion to feel satisfying. The message of the story is meant to be that everything will be okay in the end, but since that’s not the case for all of the book’s characters, it’s not entirely convincing (and it’s kind of a banal message anyway).
This city might be fine for a weekend break, but you couldn’t live there.