Amanda's Reviews > The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
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While fleeing the law in Depression era Chicago, Harper Curtis stumbles upon the key to a derelict house with magical properties. Despite its outward appearance, the inside of the house is one of grandeur (well, except for the dead body in the hallway, but real estate being what it is during the Depression, one can't be too picky). There's a stash of cash and a haphazard collection of kitschy objects from different time periods, but that's not the only secret hidden by this house--it is also a portal to the past and the future. As Harper explores the house, it speaks to him and it becomes clear that he's been drawn here for a purpose. He must seek out "The Shining Girls," women from different times and different walks of life who must die by his knife.

So, serial killer stories aren't normally my thing. I'm not particularly intrigued by how a psychopath's mind works, never really interested in his methods and his madness, and I find the whodunit aspect of most of these novels tiresome. But I found that I couldn't ignore the hype surrounding The Shining Girls. The promise of a serial killer who could travel through time and disappear without a trace? Now that is certainly something that I've never read before and it appealed to the part of me that enjoys science fiction. I thought there might be something new and inventive here--something that might help it rise above others of its ilk. However, it proved to be disappointingly, well, average.

Harper Curtis is a casebook psychopath, complete with a childhood history of torturing animals and an inability to empathize with others. In terms of character, there's very little to distinguish him from other literary serial killers--he's fairly bland in comparison to, say, a Hannibal Lecter. Harper's only distinction is provided by the house itself and, unfortunately, the house only serves as a vehicle for Harper. An inventive premise, to be sure, but it's ultimately as riveting as knowing the make and model of the vehicle a killer might use to get from one place to another. Its origin is never explained and its role in the events that transpire is never really clear.

The hunt for Harper is led by the only woman to have survived his brutal attack, Kirby Mazrachi. Kirby is an appealing and interesting character. She's strong, quirky, and hellbent on finding the man who did this to her. As a means of doing so, she becomes an intern for a former criminal reporter, Dan Velasquez, at the Chicago Sun-Times. While he's now on the sports beat, Kirby hopes that she can convince him to help her gain access to files and reports that might help her track down the man who left her for dead. Kirby's investigations seem a little slapdash, moved along by heaping dollops of happenstance and coincidence that fall too neatly into place. I loved Kirby's headstrong nature, but to all those who compare this novel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I must point out that a few punk rock t-shirts and a nose ring do not a Lisbeth Salander make.

As it weaves back and forth through time, the novel alternates its chapters between Harper, Kirby, Harper's other victims (whose stories, while poignant, aren't as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be), and a few minor characters. The chapters read quickly, but all of the back and forth through time caused it to lose some momentum and suspense for me. By the time the denouement occurs, it is, despite all the weirdness that leads up to it, fairly average and not much different from the resolution one might expect in a more traditional serial killer narrative.

There's no doubt that Lauren Beukes has an interesting idea behind The Shining Girls, but it never really delivered for me. Her writing is serviceable and occasionally finds moments of beauty, profundity, or wit; I particularly enjoyed the chapters focusing on Dan, a middle-aged man who knows he's falling for the much younger and damaged Kirby. Beukes hit the right note of guilt, longing, and restraint in his internal monologues. Despite its strong female protagonist and its creativity, I can only say that I liked the book but never truly fell in love.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
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Reading Progress

July 1, 2013 – Shelved
July 1, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
January 20, 2014 – Started Reading
January 20, 2014 –
page 146
38.02%
January 22, 2014 –
page 221
57.55%
January 25, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 5, 2014 – Shelved as: blog

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome Only 3?


Amanda Only 3. I liked it, but didn't love it.


Kemper I had almost the exact same reaction. Great minds think alike.


message 4: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Vacca I loved Kirby's headstrong nature, but to all those who compare this novel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I must point out that a few punk rock t-shirts and a nose ring do not a Lisbeth Salander make

It takes a lot more piercings than that, not to mention a lot of tattoos.


Amanda Kemper wrote: "I had almost the exact same reaction. Great minds think alike."

If you took out the time travel element, it was a fairly run-of-the-mill serial killer read. I was really disappointed because (view spoiler).


Amanda Anthony wrote: "It takes a lot more piercings than that, not to mention a lot of tattoos."

At the very least, a dragon tattoo!


Trudi Kemper wrote: "I had almost the exact same reaction. Great minds think alike."

Most assuredly.


Trudi Amanda wrote: "If you took out the time travel element, it was a fairly run-of-the-mill serial killer read. I was really disappoin..."

Agreed, esp. re: house. What a wasted opportunity.


message 9: by Amanda (last edited Jan 26, 2014 01:25PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amanda Trudi wrote: "Agreed, esp. re: house. What a wasted opportunity."

I think the buzz surrounding this book was caused by the novelty provided by the house in that it may have hooked readers who haven't previously read much in this genre. I can see why, for them, it was probably an intriguing read. But given that my mom always had these types of books scattered throughout the house, I think I absorbed the genre through some form of osmosis and it felt very "been there, done that--just with a time traveling house."

I've passed it on to mom and can't wait to see her response.


message 10: by Michael (new)

Michael Well said and helpful to me. Her Zoo City had what you called "moments of beauty, profundity, or wit" and a lot of creative as well as weird elements. There is that unevenness you refer to. I am expecting her to grow and will keep an eye out for winners in the future..


message 11: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome The 'historically important' victims weren't interesting?


Amanda Michael wrote: "Well said and helpful to me. Her Zoo City had what you called "moments of beauty, profundity, or wit" and a lot of creative as well as weird elements. There is that unevenness you refer to. I am..."

I would definitely read another novel by Beukes and have Zoo City sitting in the to-be-read pile. I admire her risk taking and suspect it will eventually lead to a truly amazing work in the future.


message 13: by Amanda (last edited Jan 26, 2014 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amanda Tamahome wrote: "The 'historically important' victims weren't interesting?"

They were interesting, but were presented in sketches. I dreaded chapters where a new victim was introduced because this vivid, amazing woman's life would be cut short before we ever really knew her. Plus, to have all of them be historically relevant seemed a bit of a forced contrivance, especially considering that ultimately their historical significance had no impact upon the resolution.


Brandon Kemper wrote: "I had almost the exact same reaction. Great minds think alike."

I'm afraid you've both missed the point of the book.

I kid. I have this on deck.


Kemper Brandon wrote: "
I'm afraid you've both missed the point of the book.

I kid. I have this on deck."


Don't make me come up there and pour out your Tim Horton's!


Brandon Kemper wrote: "Brandon wrote: "
I'm afraid you've both missed the point of the book.

I kid. I have this on deck."

Don't make me come up there and pour out your Tim Horton's!"


No! I need it to liiiiive.


Diane Great review, Amanda. I also rated this book 3 stars and was left wanting.


Trudi Kemper wrote: "Don't make me come up there and pour out your Tim Horton's!"

Never threaten our Tim Horton's! That's an act of war!


message 19: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome As far as I got:


It's out today. I'll probably read the beginning.

Read about 30 pages for 40 minutes. Seems very sketchy and hard core and historical so far.

pg 72/368 - Wow, this is hard to get into.


Amanda Brandon wrote: "I'm afraid you've both missed the point of the book."

Happens all of the time, but--wait--what's this? Oh, here it is. I found the point! And it's very sharp--all the better to impale someone with! :)


Amanda Diane wrote: "Great review, Amanda. I also rated this book 3 stars and was left wanting."

Thanks! As much as I wanted to enjoy the overall concept, it just never really grabbed me.


Amanda Tamahome wrote: "It's out today. I'll probably read the beginning.

Read about 30 pages for 40 minutes. Seems very sketchy and hard core and historical so far.

pg 72/368 - Wow, this is hard to get into. "


It is a little slow to start, but it does get better when the adult Kirby appears on the scene. Even so, it still never gained much momentum.


Robert I did always want to own my own time travel machine...but not to start whacking people off.

I do have to admit I am still rather curious about this one. For some strange reason, I am rather fascinated with serial killers.


message 24: by R.S. (new) - rated it 4 stars

R.S. Carter Yup. Kirby is cool. But no one can be Lisbeth-cool.


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