The survivor of a savage attack stalks a time-traveling serial killer in South African writer Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls.
What are the themes of your book?
It’s interesting for me to see what things come up again and again in my books that I wasn’t necessarily aware of, these subconscious things that surface from the dark waters. The ghosts of history and how they haunt our present, our connection to physical objects, and what that says about us, as well as social injustice, violence, segregation, and the scars we have to live with. I’d say it’s fundamentally a book about bright burning women, how the past shapes us, and what violence does to us.
What does the serial killer plotline do for the book?
It’s the skeleton that I hang all the other nerves and muscle fibers of the story on. It allows me to explore the lives of the other shining girls [women with a special spark, a passion for living, that attracts the killer, who senses their special aura], who I could have written whole novels about on their own—to examine how the 20th century has shaped us, how much the world has changed, the loops and circuits of history, violence’s ripples, obsession, and fate, and defying it.
Why set the book in Chicago and not South Africa?
As soon as I had the idea, I knew I couldn’t set the story in South Africa, because I was specifically interested in the 20th century, which would have made it an apartheid story. I want to write an apartheid story, but this wasn’t it. I’d lived in Chicago, so I had a feel for the city.
How did you manage the shifting timelines?
It was hell, and I had to do it very, very carefully. I had a murder wall above my desk with the three major timelines, linked with red string for murders, and yellow and black for the objects, together with evocative images—a kind of mood board—that caught some of the tone I was going for, or of specific locations I’d photographed and wanted to remember the details of. It all looked quite mad. And I used the writing software Scrivener, which allowed me an easy visual overview of the novel and made it easy to move chapters around by clicking and dragging. The killer is all over the place, from 1943 to 1989 to 1978 to 1954, and always circling back to his own time in 1931, but I also had to keep track of his injuries and the objects he’s taking from each girl and leaving on the body of another to link them through time in this mad murder constellation.