A supermarket robbery

2007-10-31 00:00

Strange Nervous Laughter is Bridget McNulty's first novel and I hope it's not her last. For once a novel is South African in its setting and characters but international in its quality of writing. This novel is especially refreshing as it has no political axe to grind.

The story, written in a delightfully whimsical style which embraces magical realism without being a slave to it, follows three characters who are loosely connected through being in the same supermarket on the day it's robbed. Beth is the cashier in the Handy Green Grocers store on the day thugs decide to rob it. Meryl is the tightly repressed shopper of weigh-less meals for one. And Mdu is the man about to buy a bunch of grapes who is frozen into inaction by the sight of the men with guns. All three survive the assault, and live on to encounter three other characters drifting on the outskirts of the Handy Green Grocer on the day the robbery takes place.

Aisha is a typist in a non-descript office who survives her mundane job by living in a dream world. When happy, she floats above the surface of the ground. Pravesh is an undertaker who feels a frisson of pleasure whenever he is near something dying. He has a secret fetish for painting dead people's toenails. And finally there is Harry, a dustbin man with a taste for James Bond films. He has eaten and drunk only green food and drink to try to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. He attracts broken objects, animate or inanimate, which is why he lives next to the dump. All these characters are searching, each in his or own quirky way, for someone to love.

With such unusual characters and written with great flair, Strange Nervous Laughter is anything but a predictable love story. It's delicious reading.

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