I half expected “The Shining Girls” to be one of those entertaining, if somewhat shallow, stories with a supernatural twist that resembles a piece of chocolate: wonderful while it lasts, but without staying power. I was in for a pleasant – well actually unpleasant – surprise. “The Shining Girls” is a grim story centered around Harper (male) and Kirby (female), who are both stalking someone – each other.
As a child, Kirby was visited by a stranger, who walked up to her and gave her a plastic horse and a promise that he will be back. He comes back – to kill her in a gruesome, particular scene that left me unable to sleep afterwards. As an adult, Kirby attaches herself to a former crime journalist in order to find her killer and she is propelled down a road that does not make sense.
Harper is a drifter through time in search of his shining girls. He visits them when they are most innocent and then comes back to kill them. He is connected to the House where time is jumbled and a wall holds momentos from the different girls.
One interesting facet is how similar Kirby and Harper are, both compelled to act as passionately as they do – from opposite side of a crime.
Another is the similarities between the shining girls. They are all extraordinary or even before their time. In that respect “The Shining Girls” is a history of womanhood from the 1930s til the 1990s.
In my opinion, the time travelling aspect works in “The Shining Girls”. As with every supernatural twist, it is a leap from reality, but Lauren Beukes has worked through the practicalities that it seems plausible in the story. Narratively, on the other hand, the time travelling and quite short chapters feel abrupt as an unvoluntary peepshow.
I recommend “The Shining Girls” for its originality and ambition. If you are willing to accept time travel, “The Shining Girls” is an excellent, if gruesome, thriller.