The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for cannibalism

 

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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Cannibalism

Cure: Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes

Cannibalism is mostly practised these days when, following a shipwreck, air crash or other similar unfortunate incident, the survivors face no alternative but to turn their hungry eyes on one another. And, perhaps, by remote tribes-people who tuck into one another's kidneys every so often for culinary or cultural reasons. On these traditional activities we pass no judgement; even Robinson Crusoe did not condemn the flesh-eating natives he witnessed. However, literature would suggest – holding up a mirror to society as it does – that pockets of cannibalism still persist in Western culture, and as responsible bibliotherapists we feel we have a moral imperative to step in.

Dr Fröhlicher in Dan Rhodes' dark tale, Little Hands Clapping, has an unusual way of disposing of bodies, whenever a visitor to the Museum of Suicide takes his or her life – something which happens with alarming regularity. The 'Old Man' who works there calls him in, and he discreetly collects the body and butchers it into steaks, which he stores in his freezer and eats for breakfast.

The doctor has his reasons. When you're this lonely, how else are you supposed to get close to others? Luckily, a less disturbing sub-plot is on hand to illustrate more fruitful ways to express one's need for company. Mauro, a dreamy baker boy from Portugal, has the misfortune of falling in love with the most beautiful girl in town, Madelena; while Madelena only has eyes for a man whose beauty matches hers. The journey taken by these three lovers may be star-crossed at first, but it is ultimately as life-affirming as the doctor's is life-negating. By the time Fröhlicher meets his kebab-like end, you'll salivate not for him, but for the delicious – vegetarian – wedding feast.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99); thenovelcure.com

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