The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

In brief: Harper is a strange man with a strange ability – to travel through time to murder girls who ‘shine’. What happens when one doesn’t die, but decides to hunt her killer?

The good: An original premise with a lot of taut moments.

The not-so-good: I felt the how and why of the House and Harper needed to be fleshed out more.

Why I chose it: Recommended by several people, so I bought it.

Year: 2013

Pages: 389

Publisher: Harper Collins

Setting: USA, mainly Chicago

My rating: 8 out of 10

The Shining Girls was for me one of those books that everyone was raving about and recommending to me last year. Naturally, I bought it, put it on the shelf and then got distracted by other pretty shiny things. Then I recently starting hearing things about Lauren Beukes’ next book, Broken Monsters. Good things – I’m really interested in Detroit and this piqued my interest. But I’m trying to be good and not buy books where I already have another book by the same author on my shelf, unread. Will I still read Broken Monsters? I’m not sure. While I enjoyed the unique ideas put forth in The Shining Girls, I didn’t feel that the conclusion gave a good enough reason for the fantastic elements of the book. It skirted around the issue of a particular house being a site for time travel or that the world was continuing in a circular, infinite motion – the reader was left to draw their own conclusions. That’s a big turn off for me – if there is going to be out there, non-linear, fantasy stuff, I want to know the why.

The premise for the The Shining Girls is good though, although it lacks some of the finer details that would really make it shine (pun intended). It’s about a no-hoper, weird guy called Harper in the 1930s. On the run from the self-proclaimed mayor of one of Chicago’s shantytowns, he finds himself in a house with a dead man, holding a turkey. Something draws him upstairs, where he finds objects belonging to young women with all the details in his own writing. Weird, because he knows nothing about this. Still, he feels the urge to kill these girls. By leaving the house and thinking about a particular time, Harper can teleport himself there. There, he finds the girls he’s ‘meant’ to kill (because their names are in the room) by the way they shine. But why do they shine? Has Harper got some kind of sensor for this kind of thing? We don’t really find out.

But then Harper makes a mistake. Kirby is a shining girl and he tries to kill her and her dog. Yet she survives and now she’s hell-bent on finding her killer. So much so that she takes an internship at a Chicago newspaper to befriend Dan, who covered the case but now prefers to follow baseball players around the country. Things start getting weirder when Kirby remembers a stranger giving her a My Little Pony as a child – but they weren’t even invented back then. Who is her killer? With the initially reluctant help of Dan, the pair try to find out. There’s a lacklustre romance between Kirby and Dan that didn’t really add anything for me (but I don’t think it detracted from the plot – it all gets a little gory in parts, so anything happy is a bonus).

In between all of this, there’s chapters devoted to each of the other shining girls, giving them some background and then leading up to their death. I wish that these girls had got a little more story, because their lives were fascinating to me. Alice was working in a carnival troupe, but she had a big secret. Margot assists with secret abortions. Zora is a female welder during World War II. There’s a lot of fantastic history here, along with the recurring setting of the Congress Hotel (Google it – definitely worth your time). I just wish it was a little more expanded.

You might think I’m dissing this book, but I ripped through it in a couple of working days. It’s a fast read and an engaging one. I also found it a bit spooky in places, perhaps more than usual as I was reading it alone during a massive storm! Beukes shows a lot of promise, especially for thinking outside the square in terms of plot. I just wish there was a bit more explanation for the time travel – the characters seemed far too accepting of the whole thing for me.

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