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.