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The Laughing Academy is as witty, black and compelling as anything Shena Mackay has written. From antiques fayres to Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, geriatric wards to Crystal Palace, this collection offers a journey around the bizarre yet familiar characters and settings that Mackay has made her own. There are Roy and Muriel Rowley, the fun-running charity-junkies who give blood by the gallon (offending their daughter’s religious principles); we meet Gerald Creedy who only loves three beings – his twin brother, Harold, and his two tortoises, Percy and Bysshe – and the mysterious lodger Madame Alphonsine who has the strange powers to make things (including tortoises) disappear; and then there is the rather arrogant bestselling novelist who gives a reading at a women’s bookshop only to find, to her horror, that two of her old schoolfriends are in the audience.