Radio – Tonu Onnepalu (Dalkey Archive Press, 2014)
Of all the books I've reviewed over the past several years for The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review (now known as The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide), the one that has stayed with me the longest for the reverberant and haunting qualities of its strangeness is Tonu Onnepalu's Radio.
Radio is, in nearly every way, an unusual book: long (nearly 570 pages), obscure (it's protagonist is a gay, Estonian filmmaker who – unless I missed it – is never actually named), and very nearly plotless, it nevertheless has a melancholy beauty and sadness which have made me reflect upon it perhaps more often than any other book I've read in the past many years.
Indeed, the most haunting quality of Radio is precisely its strangeness: the elusive nature both of its story AND it's protagonist, who is a mass of self-delusions and narcissistic tendencies but who – in the end – possesses a very affecting vulnerability and fragility.
It is hard to say exactly WHAT Radio is about, save that it is filled, on every page, with the need to connect to someone. That in the end, I think, accounts most readily for its haunting nature. It is the story of a soul looking for the companionship of another soul, a study of the very simple dynamic that every person -- like a radio broadcast – years to be both a sender and a receiver in his life.
To be frank, there are of number of frustrating and even tedious aspects to the novel (as there inevitably is with any person one spends a great deal of time with). Yet there are also passages of great and piercing beauty (its style reads a bit as if Proust woke up in the present and found himself trapped behind the remnants of the Soviet-era the iron curtain).
In the end, Radio does exactly what the best literary fiction should do: it creates a unique world that -- long after leaving it – pricks and inveigles the reader with an awareness of its existence. Indeed, it begs one to connect.