Thursday 6 June 2013

The shining girls By Lauren Beukes

Harper is down on his luck in Depression era Chicago when he finds a method of travelling through time. He then uses this to become a serial killer. The list of his victims is on the back of the book. One of them is fighting back. This is a great premise which the book mostly lives up to. I really enjoyed it but wasn’t totally satisfied at the end hence the 4 stars instead of 5. Many books are like icebergs where you understand that there is a ton of research and character & background development behind what’s on the page. This book, I feel, fails a little on making the iceberg work for the story. The characters, especially of the shining girls themselves, are not explored satisfactorily. We never really get the serial killer’s motivation, except you know he’s a serial killer, he kills people, that’s all you need to know. The time travelling macguffin isn’t really explained either, which in itself is OK and I quite liked that Beukes didn’t get drawn in to over-explaining things but since you, the reader, don’t know the rules, then there’s a sneaking suspicion that possibly anything could happen, although there is enough for you to see the shape of it. There is an off-hand reference to free will in the context of what the heroine is studying and there is a call back later in the book on that but this is an underdeveloped theme. The first half of the book had me turning the pages and fully immersed, the second not so much. Beukes has grown as a writer since Zoo City I believe and this is a much tighter book and better written however I feel like I enjoyed Zoo City more, guess I’m just not that into serial killers.


Overall - It never lost my interest and left me wanting more, would definitely recommend it

Short Interview with Lauren Beukes about the book here:

The orphan master’s son Adam Johnson
What everybody gets wrong about ghosts is the notion that they're dead. In my experience, ghosts are made up only of the living, people you know are out there but are forever out of range
This is a book that takes a fictional look at life in North Korea. The fictional in that sentence is the important word. At heart this is a book about the dangers of when story becomes all consuming.
Where we are from, he said, stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change
We follow the Orphan Master’s son, Pak Jun Do, from his life in the orphanage to a succession of roles working for the regime. Along the way Johnson’s deft weaving in of horrific background facts, the orphans gaffing bodies from the water of famine victims, disappearances, the intimately dystopian feeling of the relationships Jun Do has with people, the ubiquitous presence of the Dear Leader and the “Eternal President” the Great Leader (making North Korea a necrocrasy) is drawn so well at the beginning that when you see outsiders from the point of view of the Koreans they seem bizarre and unreal. This is most definitely a story and not reportage which is something that some reviewers seem to have missed? What it does supremely well is to get you inside the head of someone living in a dystopian present in such a way that the story is utterly believable, whilst at the same time you understand it shouldn’t be, that in North Korea stories are lies.
Overall – It blew me away, a definite 5 star read
Exhibitionism Toby Litt
This is a collection of Litt’s short fiction, about half of which are on the theme of sex. As with all short collections, there is an unevenness with some stories falling flat. However there are some real gems here. The man who’s dream girls start coming to life in Dreamgirls, the alphabed of sex which explores sex from A to Z, My cold war ( a non-sex story) that explores post-communist Berlin and a mysterious set of photographs. I bought this in London when there for work and inadvertently left my book at home and it kept me entertained on the train journey homw.
Overall – Fans of Litt will enjoy this, for people who haven’t tried him yet this may be a nice introduction

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