Thoughts concerning The Shining Girls (a review, if you will)

When first I heard of this book, I immediately thought of the popular horror film The Shining, but I must make it perfectly clear that it`s important to note that Lauren Beukes` The Shining Girls has nothing at all to do with the twin girls from Kubrick`s controvisal 1980`s movie – The Shining Girls is a hugely satisfactorical achievement in it`s own right for plenty of reasons, so let`s have a look at it. (Spoilers probably occur, I really am not good at telling whether or not pieces of information could ruin the experience for individuals. Either way, consider this a written warning and proceed on your own risk)

With her novel, Beukes has constructed a thriller traversing across multiple genres. It is primarily a crime-solving novel (with the depictions of murders and corpses and all that goes with it) but included are fantastical elements of magic, time-travelling and supernatural nature.

In an abandoned house – simply refered to as the House – in Chicago in 1931, Harper Curtis finds the name of nine girls who have the ability `to shine`. A voice, seemingly from nowhere, tells him he must trace them down and kill them before they become too powerful. One of these girls, the strong female protagonist Kirby Mazrachi, manages to escape his attack and makes it her objective to hunt him down and avenge herself. The interesting thing is that all the girls are from a different date and time in the 20th century. The peculiar, supernatural thing about the House, then, is that it allows Harper to travel in time.

We never get an explanation as to how the House is able to do this; the time-travelling aspect of the novel remains a mystery. With this in mind we can understand The House as a modernisation of the Gothic castle. Indeed, it is not a “castle” as such; that is not the important thing. The important thing is that it is in the House that the supernatural takes place, and it is here that the laying down of the Law occurs. The laying down of the Law in this instance is the voice`s command to Harper to kill the girls. It is the House that has control over Harper, not he who has control over it.

Another example of supernatural element is just this command from the voice in the House. We never get a distinctive answer as to what it means that these girls `shine`, nor why they need to die. Neither does Harper, but still, he asks no questions about it, he only goes about the tasks set to him to do. It contributes in making his character all the more interesting. Harper succumbs to becoming a murderer without needing a reason. It is as if his life is bad enough already; he doesn`t care and might as well start murdering people. If the House tells him to do it, surely it must be of some worth, surely by commanding the voice in the House he will do some good. Something good ought to come of it?

This Harper`s uncritical way of going through with his actions allign with Beukes` wonderful way of drawing up contrasts between him, the murderer, and the female victims. Harper is portrayed as a tiresome, broken and beaten down person, a drifter, who, after all, is not uncomstumed to breaking into abandoned houses. He, as we have seen, has nothing against taking orders from some voice arguably only he can hear. However, the female characters Beukes depicts on the other hand are wonderful. By giving each of the victims their own little backstory before they are confronted with Harper, Beukes has managed to create beautifully complex, deep and round characters, making it all the more sad for the reader, knowing already about their inevitable, tragic fates.

Together, these two strains of discourse (with the inexplicable supernatural Law, command, the girls`s shining and time travel on one side, and the beautifully constructed, delightful handling of the shining girls`s background story on the other), Beukes has accomplished an appealing, dynamic and interactive read. I have not read any of her other books, but hopefully I will get the chance to try in the nearest future!

 

~Milk

Don’t read the entire post.

You never read that book? You simply must read it through! Don’t even talk to me before you’ve completed it.

Chances are that if you read weird blogs on the internet, you probably also read books. It can be fiction, poetry, science or travel guides for all I care. The problem about reading books is that they’re often pretty darn long.

Before you get your pitchfork and torch, please hear me out.
A good book is literally the best thing ever! I love a good, rich and emotion laden book as much as the next, but sometimes a book can be devilishly long, boring and, frankly, badly written. In our day and age we read, I argue, more than ever. Be it internet articles, social media messages and commercials on the bus. These are often short enough to keep us interested in their message, and to keep our relatively short attention span.

Without going to bother with finding the source, I’ll just tell this in the form of an anecdote. I’ve heard that the producer for The Beatles; George Martin once had drinks with John Lennon (This is still believable, I’m sure!). Seeing how they both were interested in music, they began talking about music length. The standard of the day, probably in the 70’s was to have ‘radio hits’, also songs that are about three minutes long (as it is today as well). The duration of these minutes are long enough to make an interesting song, but also short enough to make people remember it. Martin is a fan of classical music (as I guess Lennon were too) and he said that classical music often had pieces lasting from two minutes to forty minutes, and some even over an hour. Lennon admitted to this, and he said something along the lines of “I feel guilty when I listen to classical music, because when it’s being played for over five minutes, I’ve already forgot how it began.”

I’m certainly not blaming Lennon for this. He’s a musician, and a terrific one at that. What I find funny is that shame or guilt we feel towards the arts. “I haven’t read the entire book” you find yourself saying at a dinner party – quickly followed by “But I plan to finish it later” as to justify the action of you not reading it all the way through.

Thing is, when we read a massive book, we might be afraid of losing out on some details, or we might be afraid that we can’t comprehend that much information. We’d rather stick to the 300 page novel, instead of trying to read a 1000 page book. Can this relate to other genres as well? We’re afraid of ancient texts like the Homer’s Odyssey, or Milton’s Paradise Lost? A Lennonesque way of looking at it would be; “We want to finish the book, but we don’t necessary remember what we read in it.”

I think we can learn a lot from those people who leaves the movie theatre in the midst of a movie. Why should I spend my short time on this earth reading this? Is it to win someone’s approval? Perhaps you’re proving something to yourself? If the book isn’t for you, you don’t have to read it through. I don’t want to tell you to stay clear of good literature, no-no! Just be more honest with yourself, your reading and your time.

To crack open a huge tome, and reading it despite your lack of interest for the text can be challenging. On the other hand it can also be super rewarding. No one really ever read their high school physics books and thought “This is good literature!” It can however be riveting pedagogics at work.

The plot is what keeps the ‘telling’ of the story going on. This is achieved by plot structure and plot devices. I’m no expert in narrative theory, mind you. A well-structured plot makes for a riveting story, most of the time. Sometimes an unorganized plot structure might even be the plot-device used. These two forms intertwine in the narrative.
Then comes the part where you read a book, and it’s either really predictable, or you find that the plot devices are weak, and perhaps unnecessary – i.e. a vampire that is also a werewolf and a zombie and can fly and see through walls. It can be a lazy way of getting your character out of trouble, or you can make it interesting. Plot is important. You need a beginning, middle and an ending part to your story. Plot isn’t everything though. Symbolism and poetic language can be used to achieve the same effects. The more ambiguous the plot, the stronger it can become.

Let’s get back to the guilt. Why do feel guilty when we don’t finish something? I think that not finishing a book can be a good thing if you don’t like it. Give it a shot, pick it up later, and try to understand why you don’t like it. You might learn more about yourself if you think about that. Remember that the author has her/his mind-set that they impose upon the text, and you have your own.  Some disagreements on opinions and literature could make for great debates in literary circles. Books and even different directions in academic principles have occurred due to differing thoughts about aesthetics, life and the world.

We are not closer to a solution to the guilt. This is perhaps hard coded into our worker bee mentality. We should finish what we started. Perhaps our curiosity and our naivety keep us reading in hopes that the book gets better?

The guilt and shame of not having read Orwell’s 1984 should not deter you from having an opinion about it. This shame is man-made, and not really a thing of substance. We have it because others have it. It’s a social construct. I can’t prescribe a cure to this ail, but I can at least try to give you a better consciousness. Don’t finish a thing unless it’s super important. You don’t have to watch a bad movie in its entirety just because you began to watch it. Stop it; find another video more suitable to your interests, or a movie you can learn better from. Don’t stop it just because it’s challenging. All literature should challenge you! You learn and experience that way.

Build up your attention span, bit by bit. Try something else than your standard 3 minute song. Listen to some classical music. Try to pick up a classic book instead of your “SOON TO BE A MAJOR PICTURE MOVIE” book. The more you read/listen, the stronger your foundation for attention and knowledge will grow. I guarantee it.

~Peanut