The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Stevens
Reviewed by Robin Stevens
Summary: A truly terrifying and astonishingly clever thriller that breaks all the rules. The story of a time-travelling serial killer and the victim who got away, this book will cut you up inside.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: April 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780007464562

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As The Shining Girls’ tagline says, this is a thriller that breaks all the boundaries. It’s a vicious murder plot that’s based on science fiction concepts, a science fiction novel which leaves its central concepts barely, sparely explained. I haven’t read anything like it before, and in a strong and crowded crime fiction field it stands out like a searchlight. But beware. If you’re sitting comfortably as you begin reading The Shining Girls, you won’t be for long. This book sets out to cut you up inside.

In Chicago, 1931, serial killer Harper is given the keys to a house that allows him to travel through time. In its upstairs room he finds a series of gruesome mementoes from his murder victims – except that Harper hasn’t killed any of them yet. He knows he has to follow his own trail through time to find his ‘shining girls’, and he has to kill them all because he’s killed them before. But what happens when one of them, Kirby, manages to survive?

Kirby, the single one of Harper’s intended victims to get away, is a fierce, vulnerable main character. It’s difficult not to be caught up in her story and impossible not to feel terrified at her ignorance about exactly what she’s up against. Will she manage to escape again? And if she does, has she changed history or simply repeated something that was destined to happen? These are questions that I’m not used to asking when I read thrillers, and that’s The Shining Girls’ strength.

Lauren Beukes (whose previous works include the acclaimed sci fi novel Zoo City) plays with genres, and with the often-tired concept of time travel, in ways that are smart, assured and chillingly dark. At one point, I realised with horror that The Shining Girls is what would happen if Henry from The Time Traveller’s Wife was a psychopath – and those nasty shocks, those twisty mind-changing moments, are exactly what Beukes wants to make you feel, again and again.

The book plunges you into the warm, flawed, likeable consciousnesses of each of Harper’s victims and then lets you watch them die. It dwells on the details of murder, not just the blood but the guts, rips you out of linear time and leaves you in no doubt about the emotional cost of death on those left behind. The murders and their consequences are terrifyingly well imagined, all the more painful for their reality. Beukes is an incredibly good writer, and this novel is a technical marvel.

Its chapters chop up time, slicing through characters’ lives in exactly the same way Harper does. 1931, 1992, 1972, 1954 – it’s a nasty, self-sustaining chain of cause and effect that feels so raw and brutal because of how fundamentally unexplained it is. Harper’s story begins the moment he discovers the house that gives him his time-travelling powers, and it ends (this will make more sense once you’ve read the book) the moment he discovers the house that gives him his time-travelling powers. You could read The Shining Girls on a loop. Harper and his victim-turned-nemesis Kirby are locked in an endlessly repeating game of cat and mouse, their two existences only described in relation to each other. It’s a concept that only becomes more terrifying the more you think about it.

Did I like this book? I’m not sure like is the right word. I was frightened, upset and at times even physically repulsed by it. But it’s a fascinating object, as bright and terrible as one of Harper’s shining souvenirs. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and its characters since I finished it two weeks ago. With this novel Beukes has truly done something astonishing. She’s created a fantasy world so real that you feel terrified you might end up in it.

Like your time-travel more traditional? Try The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

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Buy The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes at


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