The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Chicago 1931. Harper Curtis, a violent drifter, stumbles on a house with a secret as shocking as his own twisted nature – it opens onto other times. He uses it to stalk his carefully chosen ‘shining girls’ through the decades – and cut the spark out of them.
He’s the perfect killer. Unstoppable. Untraceable. He thinks…
Chicago, 1992. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Tell that to Kirby Mazrachi, whose life was shattered after a brutal attempt to murder her. Still struggling to find her attacker, her only ally is Dan, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case and now might be falling in love with her.
As Kirby investigates, she finds the other girls – the ones who didn’t make it. The evidence is … impossible. But for a girl who should be dead, impossible doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…
Seems it’s time for another one of those book related confessions. I’ve heard good things about Moxy Land, and apparently Zoo City is a bit special as well, but with the exception of a single short story I’ve never actually read any of Lauren Beukes work before. This embarrassing admission leads me to the following question – why hasn’t someone taken me aside and told me what a fool I was being? Put it this way, I think I’ve read around twenty books so far in 2013 (I’ve got the exact figure written down somewhere!) and The Shining Girls is most definitely near the top of that ever-growing list.
Kirby Mazrachi is truly fascinating lead character, filled with raw emotion and angst. She never holds anything back and you get a sense that this is the way she has always been. Kirby has a jagged almost brittle personality that you swiftly realise is mostly for show. This is an individual who has been violated and can’t find any closure on the events she experienced. She can’t do anything but keep looking for answers. Her sense of resolve and grim determination grows more and more palpable as you uncover her story. Kirby is angry about what happened to her but refuses to let it get the better of her. It would be a cold-hearted reader that doesn’t find themselves hoping, with each passing chapter, that Kirby succeeds in doing just that.
Meanwhile Harper Curtis is the very antithesis of Kirby. He’s an enigma, a mystery that only Harper knows the answer to. A good fifty percent of the novel follows his actions and you slowly get to learn exactly why he’s doing what he is doing. I don’t think anyone could ever condone his actions but after a while I did at least feel that I could appreciate the forces that were driving him on. There is real insight into what motivates him to keep killing. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that I felt pity for someone so evil. In some respects, Harper is as much a victim as anyone else. While Kirby is driven toward justice and closure, Harper is just as driven toward his own violent desires.
My only real worry, prior to reading the book, was the use of time travel as a plot device. I’ve read other novels in the past and the reasons for time travel feel outlandish or over exaggerated. I always have the same thought – is a reader going to be able to buy into this premise? I’m glad to say that in this case the answer is a resounding YES. The time travel elements are delivered with the subtlest of touches and never feel like they have been crowbarred into the plot.
Overall, The Shining Girls showcases some truly exceptional writing, there were a couple of moments where I realised I was holding my breath in anticipation of what would happen next. The chapter that covers Kirby’s attack is particularly worthy of note. It manages to be breathtakingly brutal in one moment, and then heartbreakingly sad the next.
Beukes manages to effortlessly weave so much detail into the tapestry of her story. This is far more than just your bog-standard by the numbers serial killer tale. There are elements of social commentary as the story manages to touch upon everything from racism, to abortion and gang culture. The jumps in the timeline read like live-action history lessons laying bare America, displaying often-turbulent tableaus of the nation’s recent history. These short vignettes always manage to perfectly capture the period in which they occur, the writing is just that damn good.
The Shining Girls is published by Harper Collins and is available right now. Seek it out, irrespective of the time period you live in. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed. This is first rate fiction that demands to be read!
If you’re still not sure if The Shining Girls is for you why not enjoy the wonderfully creepy book trailer below.