Review: The Laughing Monsters

Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters is an exciting, suspenseful, thriller set in Africa.  For me, and I suspect most readers, the plot is really a sideline, though. The mood Johnson sustains is much more powerful and interesting.

Johnson’s Africa is haunted.  It’s haunted by ancient ways of life ruptured by recent horrors.  It’s haunted by the West’s history of exploitation and recent headless terror over 9/11 and related unrest.  It’s haunted by Africa’s homegrown despots and their rapacious hungers.  It’s haunted by poverty, greed, and ambition. These restless spirits howl throughout the whole book.

Importantly, all these ghosts visit our protagonists directly. There are no moments where anyone announces that Imperialism brought about a plot element or haunting detail, but there’s never any doubt where those elements and details stem from, either. The ghosts are always personal; they touch our anti-hero adventurers as directly as a creepy uncle in a church basement. The unease and guilt swirl throughout the narrative.

It’s a spooky book front to back, and a good thriller to boot.

Strongly recommended.

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