Dan Rhodes - Little Hands Clapping (5 stars)

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Dan Rhodes - Little Hands Clapping

(Canongate)

Dan Rhodes is a wonderful writer who seemed to spring from the ether a few years ago as a fully formed storyteller par excellence, a purveyor of the bleakest, funniest black comedy around, and an author with no obvious peers. Little Hands Clapping is the author’s sixth book and also his finest, delivering a strange, surreal gothic fable laced with humour and pathos, a novel with a heart-warming and all-too-rare humanity at the core of its inventive and more than a little strange plot.

The story revolves around a small German town which houses a bizarre museum dedicated to suicide. As well as a small smattering of regular visitors, the museum receives occasional visits from suicidal individuals, intent on ending it all on the premises. The old man who works there as curator tidies up these deaths without anyone else finding out, save for an assisting local doctor who disposes of the bodies in, shall we say, a rather unorthodox manner. Meanwhile, a beautiful Portuguese girl Madalena finds herself unlucky in love and heading towards despair, as well as a seemingly destined visit to the suicide museum.

Throughout, Rhodes’ handling of pace, timing and tone are pitch-perfect, somehow swinging from laugh-out-loud funny to tear-jerkingly poignant without blinking, and his characterisation is utterly original and highly perceptive. Combining heady romance, nihilism and despair, human failings, oh, and a fair amount of spider munching, this is a unique, sparkling story. Dan Rhodes is a writer to treasure.

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