This book gets the gold star for over-hyped book of the summer. I read its glowing review on the NY times, saw that Tana French gave a positive blurb on the cover, and I kindled it ASAP. I fell in love with the premise, explained as a time traveling murder mystery. I read lots and lots of mystery fiction and tend to get bogged down with the same old plot (as Beukes says in the NY times review, there are only so many plots in the world), so I keep an eye out for the creative and the bizarre. I don’t like gimmicks, however, and there is a fine line between neat and gimmicky. I think The Shining Girls crossed that line.
I wasn’t sure the non-linear, time-traveling angle brought anything into the story. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that we are in the age of non-linear novels, and this novel was non-linear to the max. The book’s story line travels in time, as does its serial killer. All this resulted in an effect as if I was watching a handful of Law and Order intros – travel in time, murder, go! I didn’t feel emotionally involved in any of it. The murders were gory; the descriptions of the different eras and girls existing in those times were stylized and cute, but too brief for me to begin to care.
The time-travel angle was unique, yes, but the characters didn’t pop for me. A spunky, undaunted, brave journalism intern. The jaded male journalist who used to cover crime, got burned, and now plays it safe with sports. They felt like stock characters, saying stock lines.
An aside here: I read an interview with Beukes in which she said she wasn’t making torture porn because each girl was a unique character, before getting murdered. I’m just not sure that the “torture porn” debate is something relevant to most mystery/thriller fiction, but more for horror flicks, and if anything I think this book was the most descriptive of tons of chicks getting slaughtered I’ve read in a long time.
The most interesting character in the book, The House, is totally unexplored and unexplained. Lauren Beukes sets up an interesting setting of a magical House which allows for time travel, and then doesn’t elaborate or explain it at all. It is, by far, the most standout and shining object in the novel and the only thing I would have liked to read about. And yet, there’s no there there.