This is a review of Radon Daughters by Iain Sinclair, a “mad trip through the underbelly of East London to Oxford, Cambridge, and beyond” , as I think, or “a voyage between art and terror, from the Mound of Whitechapel to the limestone pavements of the Burren” as Vintage has it…
A welcome breath of fresh ideas, a master of language, and a highly recommended book, if you ask me!
The acid clarity of telegraph poles closing on an undesired horizon
This is a review that is not, or not anymore. I wrote a large-ish review for this great book, but threw it out – it sounded wrong, and didn’t do the book, the story, the author justice. On the other hand I’d like - very much indeed – to let you know about this book; so here, with my strongest recommendations, is a collection of notes and quotes on the work.
We are the wrong kind of Dead. Under-qualified.
Todd Sileen is a failed writer (one novel, not writing anymore), is dead or has moved to the US (most of his friends, and all of his creditors bought the false trail), and is a radiation addict, getting regular ‘shots’ in the East London Hospital, which make him hallucinate of a barren landscape with a tower.
Helen (or Isabel, depending on which personality dominates) is his girlfriend, works as a weather girl with a weather fetish, is involved in female top-less kick-boxing bouts (Illegal), and, as indicated, appears to be schizophrenic.
Todd, and his friend Rhab Adnam, are on a quest, to link the mounds in Whitechapel (removed, only here as a memory, a loss), in Oxford, and in Cambridge through a triangular walk, or, rather, pilgrimage.
Their paths divided. Pilgrim and Hitman. No middle way. It had been the best of times. They were glad to see the back of each other.
For Rhab this is a spiritual journey, whilst Sileen is on the run from Drage Bell, a shadowy police offier, and in search of a lost, mythological manuscript of a post-written prequel to ‘House on the Borderland’ by Hodgson (yes, the book exists. Feel free to speculate what the manuscript is…). They find (and lose) it with T.C.P Hinton, PhD, Newdigate, Pricewinner and lecturer at Lacrimae Christi College in Cambridge. But that’s only part of the story…
There is a host of other, fascinating, oscillating characters involved – like the girls around Helen/Isabel: Sofya the nude model and tourist guide, Andy the photographer with a pathological interest in eyes, or the invisibility thereof (Eye fetish?). We have the deranged and psychic police officers, with Drage Bell on one side, and Cillik Klaw as his counterpart in Cambridge. And, to round of the main players, we have O’Hagan, painter, lover to Isabel, IRA (?) terrorist blowing things up.
Faces in the morgue who have finally come to terms with an inadequate narrative.
One chapter takes up topics and a story strand from ‘Slow Chocolate Autopsy’, Sinclair’s co-effort with Dave McKean (best known for his Sandman covers, and for ‘Mirrormask’, his feature film). In contrast to other great books I’ve read this one won’t take you into an imaginary world it’s hard to extract you from when you put the book down. Instead it releases you immediately – into a world subtly changed, made different, magical, brimming with other meanings and details. Eerie, and very very special indeed.
This is not the quickest read you’ll ever have, but every minute is worth it. English history, mythology, forgotten remains, writers and artists, and all kind of conspiracy theories come together to make this an incredible experience.
Whilst following a Ley-line: What a shock to find a custom-built Slough blocking our path, congeries of suburbs, a necropolis of sunset tiles without a centre, a thought city, an allegorical theme park called Milton Keynes.
Title: Radon Daughters
Author: Iain Sinclair
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publication Date: 1995
Review Date: 14/05/06
Topic: Fantastic Fiction