'Broken Monsters' by Lauren Beukes

I followed the publishing progress of Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters on Twitter, and when it was finally released in the UK on the 31st of July, I didn’t buy it straightaway. I actually waited until the 12th of August because that was the day Lauren was to be in London, signing copies in Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue. We’ve tweeted, Lauren and I, and have been in touch mainly via this website, for which she kindly answered all our silly questions for our Q&A, which you can read by clicking here. Her answers to these questions confirmed my every suspicion: Lauren is nuts.

This is officially a good thing when it comes to being a writer. Without that little bit of craziness, I really believe we wouldn’t be able to do what we do, at least, not with any real competence. Having read Lauren’s previous books, Moxyland, Zoo City and The Shining Girls, I knew there had to be more than a little touch of madness lying deep within, and rather than struggling to be set free, it was positively forcing its way out.

This was why I was so keen to read Broken Monsters. The Shining Girls was about a time-travelling serial killer, and this was also about a serial killer, and the Detroit cop, Detective Gabi Versado, on his trail. That was about all I knew before I read it, and that was the point - something is going on, no one knows the fuck what, and even the slightest hint in the blurb or the publicity material would give it away. (I’m not gonna give it away here, either. If you want to know what happens, read the fucking book.)

Annoyingly, I was already reading something, so I finished that as quickly as was humanly possible and then took great pleasure in opening Broken Monsters. The book itself is a beautiful thing. Look at it in person, if you haven’t already. Feel it. Because even though you can see how gorgeous it is by looking at pictures, nothing beats the real thing. It’s tactile and soft and… not something you want to touch if your hands are remotely oily. Only downside. Seriously.

I read again, with a grin, the dedication Lauren had written inside when she signed it for me, and settled down to read…

Now, even though I have always been a compulsive reader, a bookworm, if you will, it’s not all that often, relatively speaking, that I race through a book quite as quickly as I did this one. It’s so beautifully written that, as a writer, it makes me think I will probably never be this good. Great. But it also gives me a level of literary skill to aspire to. (Note, I did not say I’m an aspiring writer. I’m a writer. Writers do. Wishers don’t.) The story opens with Detective Versado looking upon the mangled body of what appears to be a young boy. Without wishing to give anything away, it’s both gruesome and funny within the first few pages (I knew this already, as Lauren read out the first chapter before signing the books). I’ll just say this: glittery lip gloss + rookie cop. And two simple words: Small pleasures. Those who’ve read it (and Lauren, of course) will know which bit I’m talking about. It appealed to my sense of humour, and the humour is part of what makes it so compelling. I started reading luxuriously - I wanted to savour this, draw it out, without gulping. But in the end, I downed it in two more huge swigs over the course of two days, because it was impossible to put it down. I even resented having to get up and pee, as it interrupted my reading. Very inconvenient.

Five different third-person viewpoint characters give the plot a wide reach, but the two who resonated with me most were Gabi and her teenage daughter Layla. The dialogue between them and the relationship they shared was so well done that I found myself wondering why more novels can’t be like this. Why more writers can’t be like this. Why more readers don’t, in fact, demand this high quality of writing because, in a literary world which is all but swamped with shit books, it’s a lovely thing to come across a gem of a book written by a writer who knows what the fuck she’s doing.

The plot takes place over a span of only ten days, but one section is called simply BEFORE. It’s not made clear how long before, but reading on, it seemed not very. Such things as are described in Broken Monsters sometimes happen quickly. Which, in this case, is probably just as well.

I’m really not gonna go into more of the plot than this. Several reviews already have, and you can find them by looking online. Anyone who’s familiar with Plot Bunnies knows that we don’t do things the normal way, round here, anyway, so there.

"The body. The-body-the-body-the-body, she thinks. Words lose their meaning when you repeat them. So do bodies, even in all their variations. Dead is dead. It’s only the hows and whys that vary. Tick them off: Exposure. Gunshot. Stabbing. Bludgeoning with a blunt instrument, sharp instrument, no instrument at all when bare knuckles will do. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. It’s Murder Bingo! But even violence has its creative limits.

Gabriella wishes someone had told that to the sick fuck who did this. Because this one is Yoo-neeq. Which happens to be the name of a sex worker she let off with a warning last weekend. It’s what most of the DPD does these days. Hands out empty warnings in The. Most. Violent. City. In. America. Duh-duh-duh. She can just hear her daughter’s voice - the dramatic horror-movie chords Layla would use to punctuate the words. All the appellations Detroit carries. Dragging its hefty symbolism behind it like tin cans behind a car marked ‘Just Married’. Does anyone even do that any more, she wonders, tin cans and shaving cream? Did anyone ever? Or was it something they made up, like diamonds are forever, and Santa Claus in Coca-Cola red, and mothers and daughters bonding over fat-free frozen yogurts. She’s found that the best conversations she has with Layla are the ones in her head."

This is writing. No, scratch that. This is Writing. It’s natural writing, flowing writing, beautiful writing, not-a-word-wasted writing. I will read this again sure as the sun rises in the sky and the stars glitter at night. It’s worth reading more than once, as most good books are. And I’m still not gonna tell you any more about it. Because you need to read this yourself.