My friend has written a book. Okay, I should qualify that statement and say that Briget McNulty is someone I knew relatively well at school but, boy, do I wish she were my friend! Strange Nervous Laughter is one of the most original and absorbing novels I have read in years. McNulty’s use of language is innovative and truly captures the emotions and atmosphere of characters and settings. Not since Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things have I found myself so surprised and delighted by a writer’s turn of phrase.
The subject matter of the story is also fascinating: six individual characters whose lives are linked in subtle ways find the true meaning of love and life during Durban’s hottest summer. The term ‘magical realism’ could have been coined to describe this novel: characters are all given quirky traits which add to our understanding of them. Although they are things such as an ability to speak to whales, levitation when happy and an emmission of an odour which attracts all things damaged, the reader doesn’t ever feel as though they are reading a fairy story as these quirks are presented as entirely acceptable and therefore help us to unpack the characters and to understand their behaviour.
Traditional South African themes, such as crime, are dealt with in refreshing ways which will stop you from thinking about them in quite the same way again. As for Durban, she is the city we know and love but at the same time, a magical place where events such as those of Strange Nervous Laughter could actually happen.
I loved every page of this book and forced myself to ingest it slowly like a slab of imported chocolate. I think that although Briget may barely remember me, I am going to claim her as a friend nonetheless and proclaim to all I know, “You just HAVE to read my friend’s book , Strange Nervous Laughter!”