I Am Radar

Ride A De­light, An­noy­ing Res­o­lu­tion

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Books -

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.

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