The Radio centres around the decline of the lovable, yet hapless George Poppleton, a middle-aged, henpecked father and husband who stumbles across an old transistor radio in his loft. His obsession with listening to the radio drives him on an unexpected journey, fuelled by the painful memories of the suicide of his only son many years before.
Whilst his only daughter, Sam, and wife, Sheila, plan perhaps the most ill-fated wedding ever conceived, the radio transports George further and further away from reality. When a garlic baguette is used as a lethal weapon and the hogs finally take a stand and turn on the farmer who is about to roast them, nothing is likely to go as smoothly as the family may have hoped. The accidental return of Sam’s ex-fiance, David, coupled with the endlessly drunk Auntie Lesley ensures that an almightly farce is just around the corner. The Radio ends with an unimaginable twist, when the family realise that things are not at all how they seemed. It is a story of what it means to be a family, the perception of loving and being loved, and what it means to be sane.
I didn’t know what exactly to expect when I started The Radio, but I’d really enjoyed three other novels by M. Jonathan Lee – 337, Broken Branches and (my favourite) Drift Stumble Fall, so I was excited to go back and read his debut novel, The Radio. It’s not a book I’d usually have been drawn to, necessarily, but I’m really glad I read it as it struck a perfect chord between being entertaining and darkly funny, and also poignant.
The characters in The Radio are really what made the novel for me. I could imagine them all too well – George, lost in his own world and taking everything his wife and daughter says literally, his demanding wife Sheila, who obviously doesn’t quite understand him and who he seems to drive completely mad after many years of marriage, and his daughter Sam who seems spoilt and following in her mother’s footsteps in many ways… we probably all know people who seem like these characters, which is partly why this novel is so engaging, I think.
The storyline itself jumps around and is a little confusing at times; we see the family’s life as Sam and her brother Adam are younger, and after Sam has had her own daughter, Mollie, as well as the devastating time after Adam’s death (I’m not giving anything away here as the synopsis mentions all this) and then we seem to go backwards and forwards. I often lost track of which ‘timeframe’ we were in, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book too much because, for me, the book isn’t about what does or does not happen, it’s the way the characters deal with it all.
I found some parts of The Radio very sad, whilst others made me smile and laugh – the pages are filled with black humour which, although at times I felt bad chuckling at, ensured the novel never felt too bleak despite some of the very sad subject matters it addressed. The author addresses mental health in a way that feels really honest and lacking in melodrama, and although the book is only approximately 200 pages long, I felt like I really got to know the characters well – whether I liked them as people or not!
I can’t pretend to quite understand the ending, but to be honest, Lee’s writing style flows so well that I would have happily continued reading this even if it was three times as long! Will definitely continue reading my way through his backlist…!
Many thanks to the publisher, Hideaway Fall, for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest review.