Catherynne M. Valente
Radiance Cover

Interesting Literary Experiment But...


I found Radiance to be a weird and rather scattered narrative. Considering the basic story it contains, the book seems at least twice as long as necessary. The padding comes in the form of exposition. So many analogies. So many ways of saying the same thing in different ways. Replete with allegory and fluff, I found the first half a bit of a slog. At nearly halfway through, (on page 198 of 432 in the kindle edition), I found this passage...

"In film, even in realitè such as Severin's, these sorts of human intermissions are happily elided with jump-cuts or montages. Action to action, point of interest to point of interest, that's the way! In life they must be suffered, wallowed in."

...which neatly sums up my thoughts about this book. I find it ironic in a meta sort of way that Valente makes this point and then continues to fill the book to overflowing with the same sort of suffering and wallowing she describes. Perhaps that was intentional on her part? If so, I consider it a questionable choice.

Complaints aside, I do like Valente's writing style. She has a talent for turning a phrase in interesting ways. There are also many clever uses of language and a wealth of references to our own world and history - even though this tale takes place in an allegorical alternate reality. The script-like layout employed throughout was an interesting technique. I also enjoyed the various viewpoints that were all looking at the same things from differing angles. But that head-hopping also proved exceptionally challenging to continuity.

The second half picked up quite a bit and almost rescued the book for me. I was ready to give it 2 stars at the halfway point but the balance of the story managed to claw its way back to 3 stars. At the end of the day, while Radiance was not exactly a great introduction to Valente's material, (for me), I am more than likely to give her another try in the future.