Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The problem with snapshots is that they replace actual memories. You lock down the moment and it becomes all there is of it.
                                                                                                                                                       ― Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls

I had heard so much hype about this book – everyone from my best friend to an older lady on the bus who demanded to know what I was reading, have recommended it to me. So I knew I would have to pick it up eventually and read it through. It’s a fascinating read, a little intense, but well worth the time.

Synopsis:

The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own.”

Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi 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 on to 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 . . .

THE SHINING GIRLS is a masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

I have read quite a few time traveler books – Outlander, The Time Traveler’s Wife – and watched all those time traveling films and television – like Continuum and Back to the Future, and parts of Fringe. Generally I find them a uniquely frustrating genre – especially if they are well written. Time traveling necessitates paradox – going back and forth, changing any little thing, requires there to be some sort of fallout – some changes that need to be explored for the fangirl’s edification if nothing else.

This book is slightly different from others I have read: in this, there is no explanation, no reason for the backwards and forwards motion of time traveling. There is only a house, with a key, that allows a man to escape his own miserable life to ruin the lives of others throughout the twentieth century. The randomness of this ability is only amplified with the mission he has given himself – the reason for murdering the girls he murders: what I mean is, he gives himself a purpose – a terrible purpose – in order to make sense of the power he’s been given. It becomes so much so, a mission for him, that he begins to act in such a  way to bring about his own discovery of the house – by being the catalyst of the events that precede his own story.

I will warn you now – it’s a very intense read. Seriously intense. There are murdered women in these stories – horribly mutilated and left with clues to his mission that no one understands because no one can believe that time traveling is a possibility. Harper, our killer, is a frustrating person to read. He is self absorbed, self righteous and the power of the house makes him believe that he is owed the pain and suffering – and deaths – of these “shining girls”.

Each story of each girl – though brief, is mind numbingly current – from the 1920s through the 1950s and into the 1990s – even though they are separated by decades, each girl’s unique story carries with it a truth that makes her demise that much more horrible. These are not wundergirls – perfect virginal young things that go into death with a shriek, they are well rounded girls – with hopes and dreams, who take chances and sometimes embrace and sometimes fight their ultimate ends. The women are all different – so different – and there is something in this that makes me cheer. Too long have murder mysteries been places where women have been typecast – the innocent, the scheming housewife, the femme fatale or the prostitute with the heart of gold. To see women in murder mysteries (As an side: can it be a murder mystery if you always know who the killer is?) as real people is just so wonderful.

The pacing, mostly due to the jumps between times, is quick but seems to take longer than it does. We jump from one point of  the story to another, then back to another we’d already visited but through some other viewpoint or portal. There are moments where you will claw at the book, wanting to read chapters ahead to find out how that one scene will end – what will happen to this girl or that, who belongs to the voices and what their connections are to the house and the story.

It is a part of the time travel story – you know part of the ending from the beginning. The story becomes about how you get there.

There is something rich in this. A release from wondering too much about the ending, so you can focus on what happens as you read – how the characters develop, how they see things and feel things as you continue on their journey. It is frustrating – to know how the story will likely play out – but it is also relieving. Something that should be done every once and a while to remind yourself that the story is what’s worth reading, not only the ending.

All in all, it’s a pretty good book – again, I warn you, some of it is hard to read. I don’t consider myself super squeamish, but even I had to stop at times. The story though is well written, the transitions between viewpoints and times are effortless in the way that only a good story can be, and the time travel aspect is never fully explained and so the paradox that can arise from it are more cerebral than otherwise.

Highly recommend it. Go read it! 🙂

Cheers

AmmyB

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