Collier Brown's Reviews > The Radiance of the King

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye
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For some reason, I had it in my head that The Radiance of the King dealt with African heritage and mythology. Not so. Or at least not totally that. Salvation is the real theme—Pilgrim's Progress, rewritten. Clarence is like Bunyan's protagonist: a graceless, arrogant white man in need of some lessons in humility. But instead of the Slough of Despond, the gauntlet is Africa. Shipwrecked, broke, and completely nonplussed by the indifference with which he is treated, Clarence seeks an audience with the king, hoping to improve his situation. He follows the lead of a beggar and two mischievous youths (a trickster Trinity, you might say) in the hopes of crossing paths with the royal caravan.

The plan is simple: find the king, enlist his aid, escape the continent. But plans, maps, direction—these mean zilch, especially when the king is a wandering enigma. Even the narrative eludes itself. And to that end, the specters of Cervantes, Kafka, Borges, and Conrad haunt Laye's tale. It's madness: a labyrinth of misdirection and dead ends, a trial that is simultaneously a judgment. The control Clarence thinks he has (over himself, over Africa, over fate) is like his clothes, the loss of which, over the course of the novel, reveals the apocryphal emperor who never really had any.

The Radiance of the King is an important work in the modernist mode, to be sure, but more primordial than urban in its environs. It's the story of humanity, naked and original, and the hope (however imaginary) that ferments in our desperation for meaning and purpose.

The storyline is fascinating, mixed with horror and humor. But the ending may divide some readers. I mentioned Pilgrim's Progress because the title of this novel alludes in obvious ways to monotheistic redemption stories. If you're a fan of G.K. Chesterton's ending to The Man Who Was Thursday, Laye's conclusion will delight you, maybe even move you. If you prefer the Judge's clutch at the end of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian or the iconoclastic embrace that closes Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the final passage of this book might feel a little too orthodox in its allegory. Either way, the mania that gets us to the end is definitely worth the read.
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Started Reading
December 24, 2018 – Shelved
December 24, 2018 – Shelved as: home-inventory
December 24, 2018 – Finished Reading

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