Read African Writers: The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

Shining GirlsSouth AfricaTime traveling serial killer! In South African writer Lauren Beukes’s thriller, a drifter from 1930s Chicago discovers a house with a murderous agenda. (That aspect reminded me of David Mitchell’s Slade House.) Beukes takes us back and forth in time, narrating from the perspective of Harper, the killer, and his various victims. Some of them don’t go quietly. The ending includes delightful ambiguity. Along the way, we can see ourselves in the characters’ exchanges.

“I’m scared, Mom.”

“We all are,” Rachel says. … “Shhh. It’s okay, honey. It’s all right. That’s the big secret, don’t you know? Everyone is. All the time.”

This was a quick, exciting read, based on enormous research about the city of Chicago, as Beukes lays out in her note at the end.

Bits and pieces:

  • As another entry of economists in popular culture, one of the victims is studying economics as Northwestern University and police find “Fundamental Methods of Mathematical Economics” in her backpack. Remember that Rachel Chu of Crazy Rich Asians also studied economics at Northwestern. I wonder if they knew each other?
  • “The problem with snapshots is that they replace actual memories. You lock down the moment and it becomes all there is of it.”

Here is what a few other reviewers had to say:

  • Alan Cheuse, NPR: “Beukes has done tremendous research about the long span of Chicago time in which her story occurs, and carefully constructed the eccentric and brilliant plot.”
  • Ben Hamilton, The Guardian: “The killing is so brutal and pitiless that it threatens to overwhelm the rest of the novel… This is an entertaining novel that will be read with keen attention, but the reader may end up slightly confused by the meaning of it all.”
  • Janet Maslin, New York Times (and this is a great review overall): “Once Ms. Beukes gets her chronological tricks working at full blast, Harper’s [the killer’s] methods become maddeningly effective.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “Beukes is particularly good at garnering sympathy for Harper’s female victims, creating deep characterizations in only a few pages, so that they come across as more than just fodder for a psychopath’s mission.”

This is book #7 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.

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