Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

16131077Title: The Shining Girls

Author: Lauren Beukes

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Format: Audio

Where I Received the Title: Audible.com

Review:

In anticipation of The Shining Girls, I picked up Lauren Beukes’s novel Zoo City earlier this year (review here). Where her previous novel was more niche — filled with fantasy in a South African urban setting, The Shining Girls is more mainstream. The location has moved to Chicago and the fantastical elements are limited to time travel, which has become a common trope in mainstream literature (The Time Travelers Wife, Outlander). Before its release, the novel garnered attention, first with an auction for publishing rights and a TV deal to boot.

What I like about Beukes’s writing is her keen sense of voice. She has a hip, cultural flavor in her writing and is able to shift both her language and prose to suit the various characters. The Shining Girls is her most ambitious novel, taking on several viewpoint characters and weaving them in an intricate non-linear timeline.

The novel is primarily focused on two characters: Kirby, a survivor of an attack from a brutal serial killer, who decides to bring her attacker to justice, even if it is at the chagrin of the law enforcement agencies. The killer is a man named Harper, who primarily resides in the 1930’s, but travels into the future to commit his crimes. There are other viewpoint characters as well. Kirby’s mentor, Dan, plays the traditional relationship character and the shining girls — young women filled with potential, are expressed not just as cardboard victims, but living, breathing characters. Unlike serial killer novels like Silence of the Lambs, Lauren Beukes does not romanticize the mind of a sociopath. Harper is no evil genius. He is a pathetic, ruthless maniac who unfortunately is successful in his pursuits.

But Harper’s killings don’t come without a cost. The novel does not spare violence and the shining girls do not go down without kicking or screaming. Harper suffers many injuries from his attacks, which provides a little consolation to the reader.

I listened to the audiobook version of the novel, which was put together very well, with different voice actors for each viewpoint character. I don’t recommend this format; however, since the novel does tend to jump around a lot from the thirties to the nineties.

17411823As far as the art work, I want to make note of the Umuzi (South African Imprint of Random House) paperback version of the cover. Lauren Beukes provided several pictures of the windy city to artist, Joey Hi-Fi for inspiration. He, in turn, used this inspiration quite literally. I like the panel-style layout, particularly with the one pink-framed window that stands out among its sepia-tinted counterparts. I imagine Harper staring up at that window, staring at the silhouette of a shining girl through the reflective glass. The lettered photographs of the title are also a nice touch.

So what was my general consensus on the novel? It was a great read, but a little gruesome at times. Kirby was a very well-rounded character, but her victimhood was almost transparent. Even though she was traumatized, I did not get the sense of her being damaged in any respect — just motivated to seek justice. She was ambitious, resourceful, and exhibited real emotions.

The Shining Girls is deserving of the popularity it has gained and I do think it would make for an interesting TV series. It was quite different from her previous novel, but her voice still shined through. This novel may appeal to genre fans, but it is certainly written for a broader audience. While time travel is a device, characters take center stage. And in the end, you will love and hate and be glad you read the novel.

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Review of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

9519042Title: Zoo City

Author: Lauren Beukes

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Angry Robot

Review:

Non-Western settings are en vogue right now in fantasy fiction, which works out quite well for South African native, Lauren Beukes. My very limited knowledge of the area comes from snippets I’ve seen in television and magazines and of course, the famed novel, Cry, the Beloved Country.

In Zoo City, Lauren Beukes is rooted in real world Johannesburg, but with a fantastical twist. Criminals are magically tethered to an animal that many will liken to the daemon-human pairing of The Golden Compass. But the comparison does not extend much deeper as Zoo City is an entirely unique novel with a very unique premise.

Zinzi December is the novel’s protagonist, a recovering drug addict who finds herself paired with a sloth for a past crime. She is in financial debt and uses her special skill of finding lost things mixed with email spamming to pay back the money she owes.

Beukes writes with elegant prose, hip cultural references (that I fear at times I was too deft too comprehend), poetic metaphors, and a narrative voice that makes you feel like you are reading something literary and cultural, while still thriving as a cool urban fantasy. We are lost in the undertow of Johannesberg, in the dark and dirty streets with prostitutes and drug addicts. We also walk in the light of a cool urban scene with a hip music scene and other animal pairings.

While the world-building and prose were top notch, I did find myself bogged down with the plot. Part of my problem may have been that I listened to this book on audio — which I do not recommend. This would be a great story told as a dramatization (with South African music), but the story as is serves better in print.

Zoo City has received high acclaim and it is well-deserved. Beukes is a talented writer who actually has deeper thoughts to convey beyond the basic story. I enjoyed Zoo City very much and look forward to reading her latest novel, The Shining Girls, very soon.