The Shining Girls
First South African edition cover
|Cover artist||Joey Hi-Fi|
|Genre||Thriller / Science fiction|
|Publisher||Random House Struik (SA)|
Mulholland Books (US)
|15 April 2013 (SA)|
25 April 2013 (UK)
4 June 2013 (US)
The Shining Girls is a novel by South African author Lauren Beukes. The book centers on a time-traveling Depression-era drifter who must murder the "shining girls" in order to continue his travels.
The Shining Girls was published on 15 April 2013 by the Umuzi imprint of Random House Struik in South Africa, on 25 April 2013 by HarperCollins in the United Kingdom, and on 4 June 2013 by Mulholland Books in the United States. HarperCollins had won the international rights to the book in a bidding war with several other publishers.
Unlike her previous novels, which are set in South Africa, The Shining Girls takes place in Chicago. Beukes said that because the story steps back and forth through history, she felt South Africa would not be a suitable setting because "then it would become an Apartheid story". Beukes added that race issues appear frequently in her work, but "Apartheid would have overwhelmed everything else I wanted to do with the novel".
In Depression-era Chicago, a drifter named Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women who burn with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.
Criticism and reviews
The Shining Girls received positive to mixed reviews from critics.
Writing for NPR, American writer and critic Alan Cheuse called The Shining Girls "a triumph" and "a marvelous narrative feat that spans the history of Chicago from the 1930s to the 1990s". He complimented Beukes on her in-depth research into Chicago's history, and described the plot as a "well-made, though extremely complex temporal creation". A reviewer in the National Post described The Shining Girls as "a thoroughly satisfying thriller" and said that Kirby's charm is "irresistible and irrepressible", while Harper reminds one of the 1890s Chicago serial killer H. H. Holmes.
American writer Julia Keller wrote in a review of the book in the Chicago Tribune that she was pleased that The Shining Girls deviates from traditional serial-killer fiction in that it does not glorify the killer. Beukes presents Harper as "greedy and seedy and opportunistic", rather than "scintillatingly brilliant and alluringly damaged". While the book's time-travel theme "stretches scientific plausibility", Keller said that the book's strength comes from Beukes's "audacious imaginative vision", and that she has made "delicate and redemptive magic" out of "something horrific and inexplicable".
Simmy Richman wrote in The Independent that while the book has good ideas, it is "ultimately another high-concept novel that suffers in the execution". He said that the back-and-forth time travel results in the story "feel[ing] all over the place". Richman added that Beukes's characterization of Harper's victims was good, but felt that she does not give the killer the same attention. American author Charles Finch writing in a review in USA Today also felt that The Shining Girls is "not entirely successful in its execution", but added that because Beukes is "so profusely talented – capable of wit, darkness, and emotion on a single page", the book should still be a "blockbuster". Finch said that while Beukes "successfully defines and limits her story's magical elements", the magic "come[s] apart at the seams" during the final showdown between Kirby and Harper.
In a review in The New York Times, American journalist and critic Janet Maslin wrote that Beukes has made The Shining Girls more than "a standard serial-killer story" by "load[ing] it with acrobatic twists", and said it is a "strong contender for the role of this summer's universal beach read". Maslin added that a strong point of the book is "the emotional effect of the victims' unusual virtue" that Beukes creates, but complained about the book's lack of information about Harper. Maslin also criticized the fact that all the story's "occult power" rests in the House, which "has a mind of its own, but we never find out how it works". Alison Flood wrote in a review in The Guardian that if you accept Beukes's "time-travel conceit", The Shining Girls is a page-turner that will "take some beating this summer". Flood defended Beukes's decision not to explain how the House works, saying that "The [H]ouse just is", and that Harper's underdeveloped character is what makes him an enigma. She complimented Beukes on her victims, calling them "vivid, glowing characters", and described Kirby as "one of the sarkiest, most resilient heroines you're likely to meet this year".
- 2013 UJ Prize for South African Writing in English
- 2013 RT Thriller of the Year
- 2013 Exclusive Books' Readers Choice Award
- 2014 The Strand Magazine Critic's Best Novel Award
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