As a result of this series of posts at Crooked Timber, I've been reading some China Mieville (the accent is beyond me, unfortunately). He's very, very good. King Rat, his first novel, a blend of life in the interstices of London and gothic fairy tale, doesn't quite reach the Gormenghast-esque descriptive heights of the later, more fantastically-set, novels, and isn't quite as compelling either, but is worth having a look at. The two of the three straight fantasy novels I've read, The Scar and Perdido Street Station, are quite stunning: the evocation of place, full of inventive and convincing detail, and above all the sheer narrative grip, done through clever plotting, the use of interestingly suggestive ideas, and intelligent and engaging characterisation, are wonderful. His debt to Mervin Peake is quite clear: the idea, so dominant in Gormenghast, of the accretion of byzantine, unintended structures, both physical and institutional, the result of series of uncoordinated yet comprehensible actions, on top of older, equally unplanned structures, resonates through his descriptions of New Crobuzon and the floating city of The Scar, and if anything, he does it better than Peake. The worlds his characters are embedded in are socially real, which is not something that could be said of every fantasy novel, and which may make it easier for those un-used to the idiom to get into the novels. He is violent and perhaps takes a little more pleasure than one ought to be comfortable with in that violence, so perhaps the squeamish might find him a bit much, but this is about the only reservation I would have about the novels. Read them.
Also, The Dancer Upstairs. John Malkovich's directorial debut, based on Nicholas Shakespeare's novel, which came out at the cinema about two years ago, it's somehow flawed - there's a disconnect between the two main strands of the plot, which is both suggestive and unsatisfactory, particularly perhaps at the end - but generally rather good. It's more or less uniformly well-acted, with Javier Bardem especially good, and Malkovich directs unobtrusively but well. Most impressive - but also, in a way, least so, because of the perhaps somewhat confused way in which they are asked - is the series of questions it asks about the relationship between the obligations of the political and the personal, especially in such an obviously corrupt state.
So, two things that weren't politics, philosophy or personal gripe. Be happy with that: it'll probably be months till it happens again.