Title: Little Hands Clapping
Hardback: 313 pages
Publication Date: 04/02/2010
I honestly don’t really know how to describe this novel. There are elements of the gothic, crime and the detective genre, romance, Bildungsroman, fantasy and fairy tale … and all of it shot through with humour, both black and laugh-out-loud.
The story is centred on a German museum set up by a well-intentioned woman to try to dissuade people from committing suicide; unfortunately it seems to have had the opposite effect. The museum is the focal point for a number of sinister characters; from the owner, Pavarotti’s wife, and her husband Pavarotti [named for his resemblance to the tenor], to the apathetic, silent curator and a psychopathic doctor with some deeply unpleasant secrets lurking in his freezers. A second, seemingly unrelated story, centres on two beautiful children, Mauro and Madalena, born in a small village in Portugal and who grow up knowing that they are perfect for one another … until they move to the city and everything changes.
Rhodes’ writing is deceptively easy to read. At various points I found myself having to re-read a section just to confirm that I had actually just read a description of some deeply unpleasant event, so light and amusing is the prose. And there are moments when you cannot help but laugh [often out loud – which is embarrassing when you’re on a packed tube train!]. One such moment is Dr. Fröhlicher putting a dead cat into his freezer but being afraid that if someone later finds it then they will assume that he has been committing bestiality – so he writes a note professing his innocence. And when the frozen cat is later discovered the first thing that is done is to check whether the cat had been molested!
And the tale of Mauro [whose Portugeseness and shooting to fame meant that he became Cristiano Ronaldo in my mind!] and Madalena provides some genuinely heart-rending moments. This is a mesmerizing, funny, dark novel, although by dint of its strangeness it probably won’t appeal to everyone.