Little Hands Clapping tells the story of the macabre goings-on in a small museum in a small town in Germany – a museum dedicated to suicide, where visitors often come to finish themselves off. The story revolves around a bizarre set of unlikely (yet disturbingly believable) characters and the unorthodox arrangements for dealing with the bodies of the fresh suicides that have been agreed between the museum curator and the local doctor.
As if this weren’t strange enough, the real delight of this book are the small, laugh-out-loud details that might normally go unnoticed, but here provide the moments of high comedy and make the rest of the story seem less outrageous than it actually is.
Reading the novel is, I felt, very much a visual experience and it has an animated quality to it, both in its characterisation and in the way the narrative is developed. It is a bit like watching a surreal animated film (perhaps from the Tim Burton stable).
It is also a remarkably easy book to read. In spite of its 300+ pages, it feels more like a novella and could be read in a single sitting – it took me about four hours in total over two evenings – but this indicates the smooth quality of the writing above all else.
There are more complex novels around, that’s for sure, and I’m not sure that Dan Rhodes is trying to do anything more than provide an entertaining romp through a tragic and fatalistic, imagined world that is a mixture of the bizarre, the macabre and the deliciously ironic. And that’s fine too.