Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (5/5)

You are going to read this book.

Everybody who has read Lauren Beukes is going to read The Shining Girls. Everybody who knows somebody who has read Lauren Beukes is going to read The Shining Girls.


Maybe I slipped a bit of tongue in the old cheek there, but The Shining Girls is good. Really good. Great. Better than great.

There is too much right with this book to even attempt to mention everything. The pacing, plotting, writing and characters are all brilliant and the best illustration of that lies in what I consider the finest first chapter in recent memory.

Go on. Read it. I’ll wait.

The only problem I have with The Shining Girls is the cover design for the North American release. I understand that perhaps the publisher is trying to reach audiences beyond people like me — for whom 12 letters at the top or bottom of the cover are enough to ensure purchase — but really?

I adore Joey HiFi’s take as seen on the South African covers (I chose the B&W Special Edition hardback for myself — Thanks Book Lounge!). His covers (for books that I have read) have provided compelling visual foreshadowing of the journey to come. No exception here. He captures the essence and flavour in a way that becomes so very clear after reading the book.

In TSG, the house is more than a setting, more than a plot device, more than a character. The house provides the reader (and killer) views onto a changing world and into the life and times of people in that world. Joey HiFi’s covers elicit the melancholy of old snapshots and keepsakes, and draw the reader into the story before we have turned a single page.

Plus, they are just so darned sexy!

Great interview with Joey Hifi talking about designing the covers for TSG.

EDIT: Maybe publishers really do know what they are doing with covers. The NYT has called TSG a “strong contender for the role of this summer’s universal beach read.” Awesome for Lauren, but I do hope we will still get Joey HiFi covers for her future books!

Among the various cover designs, Joey HiFi’s is simply the best.
Pretty good, but not Joey HiFi good.
Looks like something I would see in a tote at the beach.

Time Traveling Serial Killer

Serial killers have been done to death in literature and the only way to keep the reader interested seems to be to create more believable, more twisted or more brutal killers. Lauren Beukes has changed that up. Yes, Harper Curtis is creepy. He is damned creepy. He doesn’t, however, get to hog the spotlight.

In an age where violence against, and objectification of, women is sadly commonplace, it is encouraging to see Harper’s victims celebrated for their lives and potential — the very things that make them shine. We aren’t merely shocked by the dehumanizing brutality of their deaths. We feel a genuine sense of loss for their unique and beautiful lives. Lauren Beukes has opened a door and I hope that more writers follow her through it.

If ever there was a stick used to poke the beehive of science-fiction readers (although TSG isn’t SciFi, it will be read by scores of SciFi fans), then time travel is it. The mechanics and inherent paradoxes are the fodder of maniacal rants on message boards everywhere.

In The Shining Girls, time travel is facilitated by “the house”. There is virtually no explanation of how, or why, the house transports the occupant through time. There is little exploration of the role the house plays (which goes deeper than just transportation through time), beyond the fact that it does.

And it works.

I like the fact that other elements of the story aren’t obscured by yet another primer on how time travel works and how various actions affect (or don’t affect — I’m looking at you Terra Nova) the future. I am certain that some won’t be able to overlook the omission, but I found that there was so much other (better) stuff that I didn’t dwell on it.

In a novel where the point of view and point in time shift nearly seventy times, you might expect some jarring transitions. You will be pleasantly surprised to be wrong. The narrative flows organically and the movement between scenes feels natural and appropriate. I only stopped once to go back and see when I was in the story. That speaks volumes to Beukes’ skill as a writer (and, I am sure, to a dedicated and relentless process of revision).

The Shining Girls has been hailed for both transcending and defying genre. I think TSG ignores genre: elements may be there but they are just part of a really (really, really, really) good book.

Go on. Read it. I’ll wait.


  1. […] ordered my copy of Lauren Beukes’  The Shining Girls from The Book Lounge in South Africa specifically so I could get the special edition cover by Joey […]

  2. […] I can’t even understand why someone would react so vehemently to The Shining Girls (a reasonable guess given the context of some other tweets). OK, maybe somebody bought the book thinking it really was about a “beloved town beekeeper lives a secret life as a Flapper in 1920s Connecticut.” If, however, the reader objects to the serial killer aspect and thinks that Beukes is glorifying the violence (there is at least one particularly brutal and difficult scene), then they are doing it wrong and missing the beauty of the “shining girls” part. […]

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