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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

STRANGE NERVOUS LAUGHTER (article first published : 2008-06-7; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

Bridget McNulty is described as a passionate writer who is fascinated as to why people act the way they do. Presumably hence the reason for her recently-released Strange Nervous Laughter.

The cover blurb states that “Strange Nervous Laughter is a book about love. It’s about what love does to us, and how our lives are changed by being in love, out of love or on the brink of love. With a dollop of magical realism and a pinch of black humour, it follows six very different characters – a cashier-turned-motivational speaker, an undertaker with a toenail fetish, a girl wrapped in dreams, a man who communicates with whales, a garbage-removal man with a peculiar smell and a Guinness Book of Records representative bound by a corset of cynicism – as they muddle their way through the hottest summer Durban has ever known, trying their best to figure out what it is they want and how to get it.”

It’s an interesting title because the characters are certainly strange. Nervous? Perhaps because in Bridget McNulty’s characters are elements that exist in all of us. Laughter because there’s certainly much humour in this book as we follow the weird meanderings of a bunch of society’s dysfunctional misfits.

Involved as I am in dramatic reading – I am a radio actress/director and I have read close on 65 books for Tape Aids for the Blind – Bridget’s writing would make for fascinating dramatisation, certainly on film. Her text is amusing and insightful and while the storyline may be farfetched, her narrative and dialogue makes for easy reading – and therefore, easy listening.

The story is quite convoluted. It all starts with a robbery at the local grocery store which involves Beth (the motivational speaker); Mdu (who talks to whales) and the corset-bound Meryl. The event colours their lives as the days pass and they examine their actions – or lack of them - at the time.

Mdu, feeling that he should have done more to protect Beth and Meryl, finds himself in a situation where he can protect the gentle dream-wrapped Ashia who walked into the sea and just kept on swimming after her first experience of nightclub life.

Into Beth’s life comes undertaker Pravesh who gets excited by anything dead or close to death – like rancid meat in a supermarket. Meanwhile Meryl extricates herself from her lesbian relationship and meets up with Harry who has this strange attraction whereby items of rubbish follow him like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. This relationship proving insufficient challenge for Merle, she dresses up in a blond wig and goes out on the town … where she meets Pravesh!

Strange Nervous Laughter is published by Oshun. ISBN 978 1 77020 062 4. More information on www.oshun books.co.za – Caroline Smart




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