No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, April 18, 2011

2011/16: Zoo City -- Lauren Beukes

It's a junkie look. That desperately pretending that everything is hunky-dory, you're not stressed at all about anything in the world, when inside your jeans pockets, your hands are clamped into sweaty fists, fingernails leaving grooves in your palms. If Huron's grooves were an LP, they would be playing the Johnny Cash cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt'. And the tentacles would be waving along in time. (p.93)
  1. An alternate South Africa (the dates on some of the emails were, spookily, an exact match to the dates when I read the book) in which murderers are Animalled -- accompanied by a living, breathing beast that's somehow an embodiment of their sin. Zinzi, the narrator, has a Sloth on her back. It doesn't stop her running 419 scams to con rich Americans out of their guilt-money. Zinzi's talent is finding what's lost: the Sloth helps with that.
  2. Zinzi's latest assignment sends her on the trail of a missing teenage pop star, and right into the murky depths of the JO'burg music scene. It's a setting that is refreshingly novel.
  3. The novel's firmly rooted in modern Africa. Zinzi's lover is a former child soldier, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Zinzi seeks assistance from a sangoma (traditional healer) who turns out to be a former actuary and who gets text messages from the ancestors.
  4. This may be post-apartheid South Africa -- and race is barely mentioned -- but the spirit of apartheid is alive and kicking in the segregation of the Animalled.
  5. Lauren Beukes' prose is sharp and spiky and feels like cyberpunk: and yes, there are cyberpunk elements, including the emails that Zinzi receives from untraceable accounts.
  6. This is more urban fantasy than SF; though multiple theories of the Animalled (and the Undertow, a 'black cloud' that manifests as needed to kill those whose animals have died) are posited, none of them are given credence or proven correct.
  7. Beukes is refreshingly aware of genre, as well as popular culture: there's a nice nod to Philip Pullman.
  8. Zoo City blends magic and technology, African mythology and popular culture. It has a distinctly noir aesthetic and the pace of a thriller.
  9. Definitely worth checking out the soundtrack -- Zoo City soundtrack on AfricanDope.
  10. I felt the novel (or possibly just its narrator) lost her way a little in the middle: plenty of tension and running around but not much progress.

Shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award 2010

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