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Renegade or Halo 2 by Timothy Mo
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Renegade or Halo 2

by Timothy Mo

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I can see why one reviewer of this novel gave it zero stars as a result of the extreme sexual violence in it. I too felt shocked, especially as it was so sadistic and deadly. In fact when Sugar, the narrator, comes across his fellow Brods raping and beating up an innocent girl and then finally stabbing her to death, I wondered how Mo wanted us to respond to Sugar not helping the girl, someone he already knew and liked. While Sugar's inaction was no doubt partly to show his sense of brotherhood, he had already said he knew he and Danton didn't belong in this group of rich kids. We also know from previous episodes that he could take on single-handed many men, so I was left wondering why Mo didn't have him help the girl. Did he realise that it seriously affected any connection the reader had developed for Sugar?

There is, though, a lot more to this more than the violence. At the beginning I found the style exuberant and original even though often I found it hard to understand what Sugar was saying because of his patois and argot but Mo also gives him vividly effective phrasing. Coming across in the night the ship that was supposed to take the fleeing Brods to safety, we find 'Suddenly it was there. A great black cliff loomed sheer out of the sea. I was amazed by the size, the inhuman scale. You couldn't conceive of men inside controlling it. It intimidated more the closer you got. It obliterated any difference between me and the other ants'. I also liked reading Mo's/Sugar's appraisal of the English, an assessment I found quite balanced. Later, though, I tired of all the generalisations about nationalities – it just seemed as if Mo was wanting to share what he knew.

Sugar's character, or rather Mo's attitude towards his protagonist, also concerns me. I found Sugar increasingly arrogant, such as when he compares himself with the Brods who, he says, needed drugs to 'artificially induce what I felt for free every time I stepped onto the basketball court. You couldn't get any higher than I jumped'. In Mo's 'The Redundancy of Courage' the protagonist there, Ng, right from the start displays an understanding of his weaknesses or failings and, given such self-awareness, the reader is inclined to be more accepting, especially as there was quite a bit of humour in that novel too. This one is much darker, an irony really as 'Redundancy' was all about the barbaric East Timor invasion.

When you are well into the book, it seems to me to be more of a travelogue. Rey, or Sugar, remains as arrogant as ever (‘The Babyjanes of this world never caused me any anxiety; it would be ludicrous if they did. Babyjane weighed less than my right leg; her IQ was probably half mine’) but the focus is on the places, their geography and culture with Mo spending pages describing individual features which simply expand the setting, such as the linguistic differences between Singaporeans and Indonesians. It felt a bit as if Mo just wanted to share his knowledge of these parts of Asia.

A picaresque novel, it depends a lot on the reader engaging with the character who is consistently there and with the situations that he finds himself in. In the end I felt as if Mo just piled on one little episode after another, some of them unoriginal such as the anecdote of it being a cleaner who kept causing the deaths of patients when she unplugged their essential life-saving equipment in order to plug in her vacuum cleaner. And I just ended up disliking the self-loving, opinionated Rey/Sugar – and I don’t think either of these was Mo’s intention. ( )
  evening | Oct 17, 2016 |
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