This small novel is a surprise, a delightful romp through magical realism and black comedy set in Durban, South Africa, during the hottest summer anyone can recall. The novel begins with a robbery bringing three of the protagonists together, but McNulty’s theme is surely the vagaries of love: “Human nature is the source of all bad romantic comedies.”
The characters are an eccentric blend of random personalities drawn to one another to alleviate the pain of loneliness, blindly grasping at relationships when most have never successfully navigated one. Most chronically in love is Beth, who leaps into commitment without reservation, her mission to save others from unhappiness.
A grocery cashier, Beth has few aspirations other than to revel in true love. Beth is first attracted to Pravesh because he listens. An undertaker, Pravesh hides many secrets, including an especially kinky fetish. Then there is Aisha, a dreaming girl who is unaware of the world around her, lost in the stories that fill her mind. Like Aisha, Mdu has not found a place in the modern world. He does not quite fit, drawn to the exotic language of the whales.
Each character is defined by particularity; Harry, who attracts broken objects and steals tips from restaurant tables, yet has an open, generous soul. And then there is Meryl’s constricted heart, a woman who has bound herself against the pain of love gone wrong, each failed relationship adding another layer of distrust until she cannot recognize her one opportunity for happiness.
In this blend of harmony and disharmony, confused lovers batter one another with expectations and failed promises, hiding secrets, desperately groping for lasting affection. In this engaging novel of love embraced and rejected, the author deftly taps into the human psyche, a hearty, spicy stew that is all too familiar to anyone who has trod this cluttered terrain, the long and bumpy road to love.