Entertaining, With Little Engagement – Lauren Beukes’ “The Shining Girls”

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The Shining Girls is a fascinating read: it’s got time travel, a ruthless serial killer, a girl who survived being disemboweled, and a time travel logic that hits each point in just the right order. The Shining Girls is fun and, unlike many of the time travel stories I’ve read, not metaphysically weighed down by incoherent sciences. Beukes presents readers with a house that can time travel, and that’s about as scientific as it gets. However, as enjoyable as this simplicity is, it does hinder the novel when it comes to character depth – an integral part of a story when one opts to forego the scientific route.

Beukes took an interesting approach with regards to her portrayal of the serial killer, Harper. Rather than creating a mystery surrounding this character, Beukes instead plunges readers headfirst into his story, effectively dissipating any and all mystery that, I feel, could have created a very tense, more engaging story. We learn, as chapters dedicated to him begin to pile up, that he’s misogynistic, has a disturbing murder-fetish, and isn’t the best of planners. I see what Beukes was doing here, opening the mind of the serial killer up to readers for some semblance of examination, yet I’m not entirely convinced that it was done enough finesse. Too much is revealed about Harper, which in turn negatively affects the more engaging chapters of the story – those revolving around Kirby’s manhunt.

Kirby is the novel’s protagonist. Spunky, college aged, and deeply scarred (literally), Kirby exists in the early 90’s and, unlike all of the other “shining girls,” manages to survive a brutal attack by Harper. She joins up with a journalist, Dan, as they try to uncover who is behind the grisly attacks that have been taking the lives of women (including almost Kirby) throughout the decades. This is where the story would find it’s meatiest hold, however due to entire chapters dedicated to Harper’s rampage, all sense of mystery is lost and the detective work that Kirby puts into her investigation seems pointless to readers, who know exactly what she’s going to find because we read it already. And what I feel should have been an engaging mystery full of twists and turns becomes a fairly straightforward cat-and-mouse game. Entertaining, yes, but with little engagement.

That said, the novel is still well written, with plenty of beautiful Chicago imagery throughout several decades. Beukes’ language never falters, creating tones that ride the story’s multiple settings. Lines like: “The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless with a terrible fury all its own,” give the novel its nuanced feelings of confusion, matching those of the characters who experience the terror of time all in their own ways. It’s certainly an interesting book, one that I would recommend if you’re looking for something quick to read that doesn’t require much brainpower to process.

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