The Laughing Monsters: A Novel

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In fact the best way to approach this novel is by imagining the movie it should be, and could be, providing that its redeeming strength as a novel, its humour, is respected. This is a crazy book, pushing the off beat towards the unhinged. Johnson has two cards to play, his shimmering and cryptic prose, alongside what is a convincing feel for Africa. At least, he convinced me as a reader who has been to Sierra Leone and Liberia. In common with African roads, the narrative is a bumpy ride, gleefully going nowhere with the occasional flourish of something interesting or shocking or even mildly plausible, possibly about to happen.

Nair and Michael meet up and chance comments suggest they have shared a history.

The Laughing Monsters

Nair immediately covets her, because Nair is like that. But I like the sun on my face, even in the tropics. So the semi-likable, self-obsessed Nair, with hair, and Michael, with none, are handsome and up to no good. The dialogue between them is snappy, telling banter that reveals just enough detail to keep the shambles of a plot viable.


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Neither of whom would have much time for a character such as Nair who enjoys claiming to be Danish, cannot speak the language and travels on a US passport. It is very clear that Johnson had fun writing this goofball yarn, readers might share a smirk from time to time, it is almost amusing and there are some vivid set pieces, such as when Nair goes to wash out the car after Michael has been shot, and notices how the water with which he is rinsing away the blood fades from red to pink.

Elsewhere, Nair watches as a casket-maker balances two small coffins on a bike. They were made for children poisoned by water contaminated by First World misdeeds.


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Michael is slightly distracted as he is planning on visiting a village he likes to think of as home and participate in a pre-marriage rite that should confirm he is marrying the right girl. It proves more complicated than that, but never mind. Reading The Laughing Monsters is a labour of loyalty to Johnson.

I took the stairs. Candles at the front desk, in the lobby, the big dining room.

Book Of The Week: Denis Johnsons' New Spy Novel, 'The Laughing Monsters'

Voices from the dark — laughter — candlelit smiles. I ordered a martini, and it tasted just like one. In truth had any other writer written this, aside from perhaps Robert Stone, it might never have been published and the only reason for reading it is that Johnson is a gifted and admittedly, eccentric writer. There are far too many good spy thrillers out there waiting to be read to take this seriously.

How did they fit such enormous eyes into your beautiful face? They had to boil your skull to make it flexible to expand the sockets for those beautiful eyes.

The Laughing Monsters: A Novel

Often given to bouts of nostalgia, Michael points to the Happy Mountains of his youth, famously renamed by the soured 19th century missionary James Hannington, the Laughing Monsters. Hannington was later killed in Uganda while preaching about salvation. Whatever about the hills, the Laughing Monsters of the title are, most obviously, Nair and Michael. We use cookies to personalise content, target and report on ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic.

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Eileen Battersby. Sat, Jan 17, , First published: Sat, Jan 17, , More from The Irish Times Books. The mystery is worth trying to solve. As in any good double-agent story, Johnson obscures whose side Roland is really on, and Roland himself hardly knows the answer either: Befogged by frustrations and bureaucracy, his lust for Davidia and simple greed, he slips deeper into violence and disconnection.

Johnson expertly maintains the heart-of-darkness mood. It ought to secure Johnson's status as a revelator for this still new century. The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson's deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book. The hard, declarative sentences keep their powder dry for pages at a time, and then suddenly flare into lyricism; the natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured. I started reading Train Dreams with hoarded suspicion, and gradually gave it all away, in admiration of the story's unaffected tact and honesty.

Denis Johnson is the author of eight novels, one novella, one book of short stories, three collections of poetry, two collections of plays, and one book of reportage. Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices. About the author. From the Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Latest on Facebook Facebook.