Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls 

Synopsis: Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mizrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future. 
     Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women burning with potential whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles on a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens onto other times. At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable - until one of his victims survives. 
     Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago-Sun Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter Dan Velasquez, who covered her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth...

I loved this book so much it has now become one of my Favourite Books of All Time. It's gripping, masterful, hypnotic, can stop me before I run out off superlatives. A top-rate thriller mashed with sci-fi elements that feel so natural I found myself thinking 'Well of course, there's a house that allows Harper to travel through time. How else is he going to go on his killing spree?'

The book switches perspectives between characters and bounces back and forth in time. It has the potential to be confusing, but if you pay attention, it's actually quite easy to keep the timelines straight. And it fuels the sense of dread and despair that permeates the story. This book is dark and, at times, hard to read. The violence is graphic but not gratuitous. In an interview, Beukes talked about how we are all so desensitized to violence that we don't connect with victims so she wanted to really rub the reader's face in it so that the brutality of the murders does shock us out of complacency. This book is a big 'Fuck you' to a society that glamorizes violence and a media that sexualizes the murder of women.  

All of Harper's victims are so well-realized and diverse. They are women who challenge convention and have a spark, a fire inside of them - and that is why they shine and why Harper feels he has to kill them. No concrete explanation is given as to why Harper has to kill them - my theory is that he feels weak and impotent and is jealous of women who have a sense of their own power. And so he takes that power away from them. He doesn't just take their lives, he steals their potential. And that is what makes this book not just a thriller, but a tragedy. The victims in this book are not just pretty corpses - their stories are told from their own perspectives so the reader gets a sense of who these women are - they're struggles, their fears, their passions. And then Harper shows up and I feel so sad and also really pissed off. Just another small-minded man threatened by a woman's power that he has to take it away from them in the most permanent way possible.

Despite the heaviness throughout the book, I feel like it does have a satisfying ending that wraps everything up perfectly. I highly, highly recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. And kick-ass female authors writing kick-ass female characters. 

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