The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Lauren Beukes’s earlier novels – Zoo City and Moxyland – are plot-driven and fast-paced. They are the kind of books you sit down to read in the morning and finish at dawn the next day with bleary eyes and greasy hair because you are too engrossed to stop reading and take a bath.
The Shining Girls, concerning a time-traveling serial killer and a survivor who starts hunting him down, is a slow burn, the kind of book you savor. The writing, the language – the descriptions of places, of emotions, of insight (particularly into victim psychology and how people respond to violence and disruption) – is concise and excellent, and the dialogue, as always, is knife-sharp.
However, unlike Zoo City and Moxyland, novels built like solid, sturdy houses, no piece out of place – Shining Girls has elements that don’t quite fit. The serial killer seems pretty blase about the whole time traveling thing, which I think is the intention of Beukes, to stay away from the stereotypical hysterical guy who ends up in a different time, but his calm acceptance feels strange to me, and the girls he hunts down feel underdeveloped, like they’re nothing more than a name and one other detail (occupation/quirk/sexual orientation/talent/etc). Which is a shame, because one of the important points Beukes raises in the novel is: we often see female victims of violence as nothing more than a name and a pretty face. But because there are so many victims, and the novel isn’t very long (at least, I think, not long enough), that’s all we get of them, a tiny glimpse. Too tiny that I don’t feel that I know them enough to mourn them properly.
Also, after the big reveals are made, the slow burn quickens and the novel starts feeling tedious, just a trail of victims moving toward a predictable conclusion.
But it has its moments, and I still think it’s a worthy read from one of my favorite novelists.