‘The Shining Girls’ by Lauren Beukes



17 July 1974

He clenches the orange plastic pony in the pocket of his sports coat. It is sweaty in his hand. Mid-summer here, too hot for what he’s wearing. But he has learned to put on a uniform for this purpose; jeans in particular. He takes long strides – a man who walks because he’s got somewhere to be, despite his gimpy foot. Harper Curtis is not a moocher.And time waits for no one. Except when it does.

The girl is sitting cross-legged on the ground, her bare knees white and bony as birds’ skulls and grass-stained. She looks up at the sound of his boots scrunching on the gravel, but only long enough for him to see that her eyes are brown under that tangle of grubby curls, before she dismisses him and goes back to her business.

Harper is disappointed. He had imagined, as he approached, that they might be blue; the color of the lake,deep out, where the shoreline disappears and it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean. Brown is the color of shrimping, when the mud is all churned up in the shallow sand you can’t see shit for shit.


This thriller follows the murderer, Harper, as he searches for women who ‘shine’, those who will make a difference in the world, and kills them. The chapters follow Harper as he searches for his victims, as well as the lives of each of his victims, concentrating on how Harper tracks them at different points in their lives.

The surprising element within this novel is time-travel. When I picked up this book from a shelf in a flat in Barcelona, I was intrigued by the premise but never did I suspect that the killer would travel through time to stalk his victims. At first I wasn’t convinced that this was going to work and the constant change in dates with each new chapter took a while to get follow. However, Beukers skillfully weaves in details so that the reader is constantly sign posted to the time period and the events.

The sadistic nature of the antagonist increases as the novel progresses, yet his brutality is never glamorized. Instead, there is a raw truth to the characterisation that is unsettling and stays with you. At times, I struggled to read on, especially as I don’t usually read thrillers, as every aspect of the killings, stalking and reactions feel eerily real. It is gruesome and unsettling, yet I couldn’t shake the novel and had to keep reading. Part of this was due to the sole survivor, Kirby, a strong, traumatised young woman who is determined to find the man who tried to kill her, no matter the cost.

Some thrillers create sympathy for either the killer or the victims, they romanticise the murders and the plot, and this is what Beukers refuses to do. The pain of the families and the victims feels true. Harper is an addict, he is driven by both an internal and an external force. This novel certainly has twists and turns, as well as an addictive quality.

One way of reading this novel is as a metaphor for society’s disregard and destruction of female ambition. It reminded me of a quotation that described Milton and his legacy as the ‘great Inhibitor, the Sphinx who strangles even strong [female] imaginations in their cradles.’ Even literary tradition has suppressed women and perhaps Beukers is presenting all of these strong women, who are murdered before they can reach their potential, as a metaphor for the female plight. Or you can read this purely as an excellent thriller, either way you will enjoy this novel and the journey that it takes you on.


One comment

  1. This intrigued me soooooo much! I love thriller and I love the genre a bit more that fantasy or scifi. And the story kinda reminds me with Jack the Ripper from the tv series, Time after Time (w/c sadly was cancelled I don’t know why but it’s good).


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