Monday, February 15, 2010

...and now, for something completely different: Little Hands Clapping, by Dan Rhodes

The descriptions of this book sounded so twisted I knew I had to read it. Not only that...when I went to Amazon to buy it, there were  no copies available (thankfully for American readers there are a few used copies available at this time), but I wanted it NOW, so opted to go through Amazon UK. It was worth it, currency exchange rates and all.

On the surface, this book is gruesome and at times a bit sick, but if you want a book that's highly  original, one that offers something you'll probably never read the likes of again, then this one's for you.  It will probably appeal to minds like mine...a little off-kilter and prone towards the quirkiness of life.  And actually, what's really funny is that in the author's world, all of this stuff could have actually happened.  Sick, but at the same time often funny, with a story to tell, Little Hands Clapping is one of the best books I've read in a while.I've never read any other books by this author, but I see more on my library shelves from him in the future.

At first this book reads somewhat like a bizarre set of unconnected tales, and once you start reading you are hooked.  Somewhere in Germany, a woman known only as Mrs. Pavarotti (not her real name, but so-called because her husband has an uncanny resemblance to the real opera star), has created a museum whose intended visitors are those who are in deep pain, possibly contemplating suicide. The exhibits, which are funny but not really (actually, they're kind of sad, but you can't help laughing even when you know you shouldn't)  have a purpose: to try to get these lost souls  to change their minds and embrace life.  Mrs. Pavarotti herself went through some anguish in life, and she can't stand the thought of unhappiness and pain.  She hired a caretaker only known as Herr Schmidt, who embraces nothingness. He hates human companionship and just wants to be left alone, his one pleasure in life the cake brought by Mrs. P. every time she comes to visit.  Herr Schmidt often finds the need to call on one of the local GPs, a Dr. Frohliche with whom he shares a secret that the rest of the town is probably not ready to hear about.  The doctor, who is loved by his regular patients, does what he considers his penance by doling out money to charity.  Interwoven with this story is the sad story of two beautiful young people whom the stars destined for each other early in life.

It's simplistic, but not simple. The author can turn your stomach while at the same time making you laugh by going off on some rather bizarre tangents. He has no shame sometimes, and the humor tends to lighten some of the darkness of the novel, but at the same time feeds into it. You will laugh in spite of yourself. He takes small-town, inglorious and mundane lives and makes them interesting to the point that he leaves you wanting more.  The writing is not a clear linear narrative, going backward and forward through time, but still very easy to follow.  It's like a modern Brothers Grimm on steroids.

If you have a quirky outlook on life, or if you like really dark humor which has a purpose, or even if you just want something new and well, refreshingly different, then you are going to love this book. You have to just let yourself go while you read this, because of the subject matter, but in the end, it's absolutely exquisite. But this book is not for the faint of heart, or for those who can't see the humor in even the bleakest of situations. Most highly recommended.

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