Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsSometimes my university's popular fiction section has really good books showcased in it.  Sometimes it doesn't.  This is one of the "doesn't" times.

The plot revolves around a time-traveling serial killer whose mission is to kill a bunch of "shining girls."  Why these girls are shining, we don't know.  Why they need to die, we don't know.  Why the killer can travel through time, we don't know.  Why the the house is magical and allows this weirdness, we don't know.  How any of this works, we don't know.  It's never explained.  Any of it.

The chapters rotate between a wide variety of characters.  There are three main ones: Harper, our serial killer; Kirby, one of his victims who actually lived through his attack and now wants to find him; and Dan, a reporter who covered Kirby's case and is now acting as her mentor at a newspaper while helping her unravel the strands of the mystery.  Dan was utterly lovable, with Kirby's own good in mind.  Kirby was self-destructive.  I can understand wanting the person who attacked and nearly killed you to pay for it, but chasing him into an abandoned house by yourself and with no weapons?  Not good.  Harper is just...meh.  There's absolutely no empathy between Harper and the reader, which makes him an extremely off-putting main character.  It made his chapters a chore to read, which shouldn't have been the case.  Harper's killer psychology should have been fascinating, but it wasn't.  he just killed people for apparently no reason, even when we could see inside his head.  Considering his chapters carry about half the book, that wasn't a highlight.  The other characters are Harper's other various victims, who each have one or two chapters a piece, and those chapters vary greatly in quality.

There's one chapter with Kirby in the time-traveling house that occurs in the narrative way earlier than it probably should have, ruining some of the suspense.  The time travel premise seems to rely on the idea that time is a series of loops, but Harper doesn't ever face any consequences for messing with time, and surely he has to be messing up something with all that back-and-forthing and killing people.  I really, really loved some of the victims and would have liked to see them for more than just a few pages.  Some of the writing was quite good, particularly later in the book with the Kirby and Dan chapters, but early on Beuke's conveyance of negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness, frustration, etc.) relied heavily on the use of profanity.  Don't get me wrong, I don't mind profanity.  But I don't think that it should be the basis for conveying your characters' emotions.

Overall, this book did not shine, unlike the girls it was supposedly about.

2 stars out of 5.

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