The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Just finished reading the Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  The Shining Girls is a story of time travel and murder!  It’s a great concept and I was excited to pick it up.

The story contains two main characters.  Harper, a drifter who has a natural proclivity towards violence which finds him at the beginning of the book being chased by a pack of angry men intent on teaching him a lesson.  Kirby, survivor of a brutal murder attempt whose world has been turned upside down as a result and who believes her would be murderer to be a serial killer.

At the start of the story Harper unwittingly comes across the key to a house that enables him to travel through time.  The shabby exterior of the house belies the interior which provides a more than comfortable home for Harper as he jumps between time seeking the ‘shining’ girls that have been chosen for him by the house.  Harper is indeed a serial killer and with the discovery of time travel he has found the way to be a perfect killer.

Kirby is a good character to read.  In spite of the horrendous attack she survived she is determined to remain strong.  Of course it’s difficult to lead a normal life as most people now view her as something as a freak show at worst and curiosity at best.  Kirby joins a newspaper team as an intern.  She is obsessed with finding her would-be murderer and the newspaper archives provide a wealth of material about past stabbing victims.

This story has huge scope and I really do think it’s an intriguing premise.  Fortunately the author made the choice to restrict the time travel to a certain period jumping mainly between the 1930s to the 1990s otherwise this would have become to wide to be interesting in the way intended.

In terms of characters.  Harper is a ruthless character.  He really is quite vile and the way he jumps back and forth stalking his victims and giving them mementos before he jumps ahead to perpetrate his crime is really quite chilling.  In fact it takes stalking to a whole other level and I confess here and now that this book made me rethink certain walking routes on my way home!  I think what adds to the level of horror in this story is that in spite of the supernatural element brought by a time travelling house the whole serial killer storyline feels real.  You sort of read it with a growing but gripping horror.  It’s like watching a disaster or a train wreck.  You can’t watch it but you also can’t ‘not’ watch it (double negative I know but I just had to!)

The girls that Harper kills are chosen by the house.  You could say that these are randomly chosen but I don’t particularly think that’s the case.  All of them seem to have something to offer to society and it seems to be this that makes them ‘shine’ with potential.  Other than that it’s a mystery why the house chooses these particular girls.  I wondered if the whole concept of the house was determined by the character of the person who found it’s secret.  Certainly the previous occupant seems to give an indication that that might be the case.  It’s almost like the author has taken the phrase  ‘be careful what you wish for’ and manipulated it.  I remember reading in another story about an object that grants wishes but the wishes were always distorted and never failed but to bring misery.  And similarly in this case the house takes your desires or inner secrets and character and twists them to a horrible extent, magnifying them and almost making the inhabitant insane in the process.  Harper’s was already a violent character with little respect for human life even before he came across the House.  The House merely picked this trait and used it to satisfy Harper’s own desires but in a way that created more of a monster than he was previously capable of being.

On top of that is the whole time travel theme.  I wouldn’t say this is greatly delved into but nevertheless you can’t help but be sucked into the whole ‘chicken or egg’ first dilemma.  If you read the book you’ll understand what I mean.  Did Harper find the house as a result of blind luck or did he himself, as a future version, lay the tracks for finding the house!  It’s one of those little niggles that will keep you thinking long after you put the book down with a whole series of ‘what ifs’.

I think Beukes has quite a compelling writing style.  She manages in just a few short pages to give you the essence of the girls that have been chosen and to provide them with their own identity and character.  None of them are similar.  They seem to come from all walks of life.

Kirby and Dan, the reporter who takes her on as intern, are likeable characters.  Dan, I suppose could be seen as a bit of a cliche.  A bit bitter.  Divorced, formerly a homicide reporter but now travelling the country and reporting on baseball as his health and family life was too greatly affected by his former duties.  He develops feelings for Kirby which in a way I was glad of.  There isn’t really a romance although the ending leaves that open but I was glad that Kirby seemed to finally find someone who didn’t want to look into the goldfish bowl of her life and was actually interested in her as a person.

Now, I will just warn you that if you’re a bit squeamish then this might not be for you.  The murders are a bit shocking and grisly to say the least and you read them with one eye shut – if I hadn’t been reading in my lunch break or during travel to and from work I probably would have been holding a cushion in front of my face as well.

In terms of criticisms well there is of course the fact that as you read about each of these characters you have the inevitable feeling of doom as you know what’s coming their way.  So, yes, not exactly cheerful or upbeat.  I also experienced a slight lull about half way through which I think was as a result of the above – it’s difficult to be drawn into liking a character or having interest and sympathy with their life if you know already what their ending will be.  You experience this whole thing of ‘what’s the point in liking her’.  It’s not the way you start off of course.  You start off liking the girls but as the story progresses rather than actually liking them you’re reading ahead with a sense of impending doom and you start to view them all as dead before you started.  You’re almost reading just to witness their ending which is a bit uncomfortable in a way, and definitely if you’ve developed a liking for them. What does bring this around however is the way Kirby pursues Harper.  Part of you has a feeling of ‘no way can she find him’.  Yet you have to read on to find out.  More to the point, is she still safe?  She may have survived but the murderer can of course travel back and forth.  I think some people may want more detail about the nature of the house but I didn’t particularly feel that the lack of detail detracted.  I had my own views about what was happening and why.  And on top of this I appreciated the simplicity of the ideas and the fact that the author doesn’t overload the story with complicated notions about what’s happening.  I have an imagination and I’m not afraid to use it!

On the whole I thought this was a good story, a really original concept and a compelling read and as a result I will definitely look back at other works by this author.

I bought this book but also received a copy from Net Galley in exchange for a honest review.

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12 Responses to “The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes”

  1. Michael

    So jealous! I’m eager to read this one!

    • lynnsbooks

      I was like that – for some reason I couldn’t wait to pick this one up! And, I think it’s well worth reading.
      Lynn 😀

  2. jenclair

    Lauren Beuks is a new author to me, and this book sounds interesting! Will look on NetGalley.

    • lynnsbooks

      Yes, it has been archived. I bought mine anyway because I managed to get the hardback really reasonable so it was worth it.
      Lynn 😀

  3. jenclair

    Oh, dear. NetGalley must have archived this one. Will try the library, then Amazon.

  4. jessicabookworm

    This book really intrigues me. I am not usually one for gore but I can deal with it if its for a really good premise which this book sounds like it’s got.

    • lynnsbooks

      I think it’s a really unique idea and I thought it was a good read. I hope you read it. I’d like to know what you think of it.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Marie

    I’ve heard quite a bit of buzz around this one but until reading your review I didn’t have a real idea of how the time travel bit fits into the murder mystery, so thanks! It sounds like something I’d enjoy.

    • lynnsbooks

      Thankfully the author doesn’t try to come into any in depth reasoning. You’re pretty much left on your own to determine what you make of ‘the house’ which I think is quite clever in a way.
      I hope you like it – I will stress that the murders can be a bit ‘eugh’ to read but I think it all adds to the thoughts you have a about Harper.
      Lynn 😀

  6. TBM

    I saw an advertisement for this in the Tube station and I was surprised by the title. A little too close to The Shining for me. I wonder what King thinks. I’ll try not to judge it by that though.

    • lynnsbooks

      At least it’s a different concept. Kings book refers to the boy’s psychic ability. The Shining Girls relates to the way the girls are chosen by the house and when Harper goes in search of them they literally shine – as though they’ve been sprinkled with gold dust.
      Lynn 😀

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