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!