Book Review – The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson


I’m a smidge ashamed to admit I’m new to Denis Johnson and that a huge part in my decision to read this was the glorious cover photo from Richard Mosse’s The Enclave exhibition. Glad I did.

Ronald Nair is a shady Scandinavian obviously ex-intelligence services operative drawn back to Freetown by an African former friend/colleague/associate Michael Adriko. Michael has a plan for a heist and a new fiancée. I don;t want to reveal any more as usual.

I’ve read a fair few reviews online of people taking this far too seriously or presuming Johnson should be writing far more seriously. Read it on the top and it’s a swift, occasionally vicious sometimes nonsensical trawl across half of Africa in what feels like the dying days of an empire.

As someone who’s never been to West Africa it nonetheless feels impossibly evocative of time, place, people, resources. It’s was worth it for me ever just for that. There’s more than a hint of a far more extreme version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American here. Still well worth your time, though.

One thought on “Book Review – The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

  1. Good to hear you liked it, Rick.

    I’ve heard some of the criticisms too.

    My own Johnson exposure has been solely through Jesus’s Son, his collection of short stories from (I think) the 1990s. Some of the greatest stories I’ve ever read are in there – I re-read “Car Crash While Hitch-Hiking” and “Work” at least once a year, and every time they amaze me. I think “Work” is also on the New Yorker fiction podcast read by Donald Barthelme. Highly recommend you seek that out for an audio experience.


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