It’s a wonder it was so easy to get inside. Buildings of London are jagged for protection, their defences as various as any animal adaptations. Archaeologies of wire. It’s the relict ancestor of razorwire that proliferates, brambles made of rust, on backstreet lock-ups. Walltops from Greenwich to Wembley, Ealing to Walthamstow are dorsal ridges of shards in old cement – bottleglass, crockery, bust-up mirror. Seven years misfortunes weaponised against intrusion. They sprout like werewolf hair. As if, in defence of property, the city sloughs off brick and is a beast beneath. A rare apocalypse, among London’s many.


In South Kensington, the bricks of the Natural History Museum are already animaled, in profusion. Big-headed fish coil around Thames-side lamp-posts. In Hackney are benches with iron camel side-slats. Inaccurate dinosaurs guard one end of Crystal Palace park, sphinxes the other. The lions of Trafalgar Square are sedate, with whole feet. They’re in denial.

The Horniman Museum, Forest Hill. Amid its anthropological la-las, its live fish, its art, is a chamber of questionable taxidermy in eccentric taxonomy. Dingy things. Half-bat skeletons flying out of their skins. A cabinet of dog heads, a starburst of skulls and morose faces. In the centre, point zero of the canine explosion, is a tatty wolf. Its expression has no name. It stares out, its face as horrified as Martin’s lion, as angry as the riot dogs of Greece.

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china mieville

A shorter version of this essay was published in the New York Times Magazine, on 4 March 2012.