Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

I was fortunate enough to snag a copy of Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters via a Tweet from her publisher. A few days later, an uncorrected proof arrived, and I found myself reading my first Beukes. I tweeted this, and Beukes replied:

hope it’s not the last

Let me tell you why this is such a good book, and why it won’t be my last Beukes.

The story begins in Detroit, the dying Motor City, where our characters are moving through difficult lives. The first, Detective Gabi Versado, has been presented with a horrific murder case; while Layla, her daughter, is struggling at school; there’s TK, a ‘recycler of found goods’, picking over the bones of Detroit; Jonno Haim is a writer struggling to remember what to write about; and Clayton Broom, an artist, is trying to put his life and his work back together.

At one level, the book is about audience participation, and how this becomes complicity. What does complicity have to do with art? How much does art take from us? What do we have to give? What, exactly, is the meaning of something unobserved? Transformation is another thread: When does one thing become something else? Why do things change, and what is the role of human will in this process? Then there is well-worn notion of surface appearance and its occasional complement, deep reality: well-worn, yes, but making a rich fabric given the right pair of hands.

What I’m saying is, I liked the book.

It is technically accomplished, too. Detroit seemed realer than real. The dialogue cracks like a whip and is occasionally beautiful. I rooted for the characters; liked spending time with them; found them interesting. The experience of reading the novel is compulsive. Beukes begins with short shards of prose that gather and crunch by its conclusion. There are plenty of laughs. The horrors are disturbing. I was not, I must say, a fan of the chapter titles—when many chapters are less than two pages long, the artifice of a cute pun pricks the suspension of disbelief. I’m also undecided about the allusions to Oz; and the ending was a little conventional given the eccentric orbit of the first two-thirds. But, frankly, I’m struggling to find negatives.

It’s a proper book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off to have nightmares.

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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