First, we’ll address the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
“How you doin’, Mr. Bananas?”
“Doing fine, E. How’s the family?”
“They’re well. Autumn’s growing up too quick and Chris… well, Chris is a dude. You know how dudes are.”
“I do, I do. So what is it that I can help you with, E.?”
“Oh, nothing. Just wanted to address you.”
“Oh. Well you should know that this is a terrible joke and, if people laugh, they’ll be laughing at you, not with you.”
“Good. Just wanted to make that clear. Say, do you have any bananas?”
“I’m sorry, I do not.”
“Then what fucking good are you to me? Piss off.”
Now that Mr. Bananas is gone, I should probably address the problems you might have with Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls. If you do not read chapter titles, you will soon Amelia Earhart your way into history. I do not like chapter titles. All too often, authors ruin their own books by putting spoilers in their chapter headings. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine, so when I come across a book with chapter titles, I skip them. I feel this way: the important information should be worked into the actual chapters and not lazily dropped into the chapter headings. Lauren Beukes not only uses chapter titles in lazy ways, but if you miss whose head and the time you’re in, the book becomes a mess very quickly. More than twice I had to flip backward to make sure I knew who I was with and where in time we were. I shouldn’t have to do that, Lauren. Shame on you.
Other than that, this book is great. The plot isn’t the most original (serial killer bouncing through time ala Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper in that one old movie), but Beukes does manage to make what happens interesting. I think where Beukes shines (get it? DID YOU GET MY PUN????) is character development. She goes into deep detail concerning the smallest character. Most importantly, she made me care, or at the very least understand, the red shirts in this book. Every corpse had a pulse at one point in time, and I dig that she paid so much attention to their history.
Once I managed to get a feel for the flow of the story, I enjoyed myself. Are their problems? Sure. Several of them. But I didn’t notice until after I finished reading. But the best part of this book is Beukes writing. It’s smooth and seemingly effortless. I blew through 50-100 pages a sitting because, once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down.
In summation: Not everyone will like Beukes because she forces you to pay attention. If you skip chapter headings, you will be super fucking confused. If you don’t like a huge cast of characters, you’ll likely not like this, because every third chapter or so is from a brand new person’s POV. She gets into the heads of every victim, so expect to learn some of everything about everybody. I didn’t mind. In fact, the big cast was one of my favorite parts.
Final Judgment: Pay attention for full payoff.