Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes

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Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Stomach it to the end and you will find a very distinctive, quirky and enjoyable dark comedy. For some time you may be wondering what I'm implying there is to actually stomach...
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1847675293

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The first character to mention in this book is a moth. It's a human moth, drawn to the flame that is a museum of suicide - a supposedly cautionary, life-affirming, memento mori, somewhere in Germany. Its curator is an old hand at lonely, unloved museums, fresh from an art gallery in an airport - it didn't take off - who notices the noise of the latest suicide to happen in the museum, and goes right back to sleep. A spider crawls into his mouth and gets eaten.

The town doctor who collects the corpse in the morning has a different diet entirely. He and several other odd characters - the cleaner, the museum owners - make this book look like a goofy, spirited collection of slightly zany, dark occurrences - so why, alternating with it all, is there a bittersweet tale of unrequited love from the hills of Northern Portugal?

I say alternating, but it's in no way such a structured weave. Instead, we get an appealing spread of flashbacks, flashforwards, and border crossing incidents, but the scale, speed and craft of the switches are definitely on the amenable side.

It's a quiet, unshowy balance between the bigger plot, all the major characters, and some vivid, illuminating detail when minor ones step to the fore - the brief look back at, and around, one of the female, er, visitors, to the museum is remarkable, and I'm sure memorable.

Of course, to many, the most vivid memory will be left by the doctor and his lifestyle, and it's certainly going to be the biggest source of displeasure in those not noticing the words totally sick and mortifying on the cover of my hardback edition. I found there was nothing to get me in my stomach, which partly is why a lot of this went past in a quizzical feel of pleasantness. It's a case of the subtlety of the weft, the warmth and interest of the Portuguese side, and the way Rhodes definitely writes both to amuse and provoke edgier emotions - and most importantly lets us to ourselves to know which is which - all playing to leave a perfectly decent read that for some major time does seem to suffer slightly from lack of focus.

That won't last much into part four, however, where dour Germans discuss water supplies and circumlocute a bravura scene, that I only hope you don't try to read while drinking a mug of cocoa...

And the final picture is one of a novel of unusual depth, a wicked blackness, and some sense of magical realism almost, contrasting with the grim central European colours. The book reviewing gods will attest I acted almost like a moth to a flame myself over this title, and again the flame was a cautionary, life-affirming memento mori.

And just as the original seems utterly bizarre in its mix of mediums - Sylvia Platt with her head in the oven, done as a diorama of dolls' house contents - so this could well have something for everyone.

I must thank the kind Canongate people for my review copy.

You might also enjoy When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow by Dan Rhodes.

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Buy Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes at


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