I Am Radar
Ride A Delight, Annoying Resolution
Release Date: 26 March 655 pages | Hardback/ ebook Author: Reif Larsen Publisher: Harvill Secker
Reif Larsen’s I Am Radar is colossal in scope, ambition and sheer bulk. It starts with all the lights going out in New Jersey, as a black child is born to two white parents. He’s christened Radar – “It’s a real American name,” protests his electronics- crazy Serbian immigrant father, “There’s a Radar on M* A* S* H”. His freaked- out mother is obsessed with having him “put right” – in other words, made white. A weird commune of scientists and performance artists in Norway reckon they can do this. And they do – but there are side- effects…
The mad Norwegians, it turns out, are into putting on ultra hi- tech puppet shows in war zones, feeding off the negative energy to create performance art that nobody else gets to see, and to hell with the collateral damage. They co- opt Radar to help them with their show- toend-all- shows in the Congo.
If it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive, this book is an amazing journey. The core of it is a pair of extended flashbacks. In one, a family is torn apart by the war in Bosnia; in the other, a dilettante scientist conducts a tragic human experiment in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Cut them out with scissors and throw away the rest of the book and you’ll have two exceptionally haunting and evocative novellas. The residue, Radar’s story, bundles you along at a spellbinding pace towards what promises to be a mindblowing conclusion…
Which doesn’t happen. As soon as our heroes take a ship from Newark to the Congo, the book disintegrates. Characters we’ve come to care about dwindle into comic relief. The huge narrative cheques Larsen’s been writing for the last 500 pages all bounce. A truly annoying Neelix- like tour guide refuses to shut up. There’s enough loose ends to make a macrame duvet. Something happens at the end, but damned if I know what. The Messiah doesn’t arrive. The Cracks of Doom are closed for maintenance. Please try later.
This is why reviewers are so essential. We walk the minefields for you. Forewarned, you can enjoy and be blown away by the first 500 pages of this otherwise magnificent book, and not end up hurling it at the nearest wall in frustrated rage when you get to the wretched, useless ending. Tom Holt Larsen is writer- in- residence at the University of St Andrews. He’ll be appearing at Topping’s St Andrews branch on 14 April.