Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: Broken Monsters

Title: Broken Monsters
Author: Lauren Beukes
Pages: 436
ISBN: 9781415202005
Publisher: Umuzi
Published: 2014
Genre: Thriller / Genre-bending
Source: Copy won in competition

Buy it from:
The Book Depository (US edition)
The Book Depository (UK edition)
Kalahari.com (SA edition)


Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused together. And it’s only the first.

As winter closes in on Detroit, strange and disturbing corpses start turning up in unusual places, pulling several lives into the killer’s orbit.

Gabi has to juggle the most harrowing case of her career with being a single mom to her troubled teen daughter Layla.

Layla, egged on by her best friend Cas, is playing a dangerous game with an online predator.

Broken Monsters is a dark and gripping thriller about the death of the American Dream, online fame, creativity, compromise and the undercurrents of the world we live in right now.

I finished reading Broken Monsters at a quarter to midnight and it resulted in my first ever book induced insomnia. I tossed and turned till 3am before I finally managed to fall asleep. Although Broken Monsters has enough macabre visuals to creep anyone out (especially those with vivid imaginations) it wasn’t due to nightmares. I just couldn’t let the story go. What does it mean? Why? How? There were so many things to dissect, to contemplate and to try to comprehend. Broken Monsters broke my brain in the best possible way.

I dreamed about a boy with springs for feet so he could jump high. 
So high I couldn't catch him.
But I did catch him. But then he wouldn't get up again.
I tried so hard. I got him new feet. I made him something beautiful.
More beautiful than you could imagine.
But he wouldn't get up. And the door wouldn't open.

In its most basic form Broken Monsters can be seen as a supernatural thriller with a dash of horror and a dollop of police procedural thrown in. It’s a captivating read that draws you into the manhunt for a serial killer with a penchant for mutilating and publicly exhibiting his victims. A perfectly enjoyable, if seemingly unremarkable read. But Broken Monsters offers so much more if you delve beyond the surface layers to expose the complexity within. The pages are filled with metaphors, and deals with a myriad of issues like creativity, originality, the pervasive and persistent nature of social media, the search for fame, cyber bullying, sexual abuse... Issues we all face in our daily lives in one form or another.

Unlike The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters plays out in modern times. The Internet and social media play an integral role in the story. Pop culture references, YouTube comments, Tweets and Reddit threads are used to great effect in helping the story unfold in a realistic way. Beukes’ observations on life in the Internet age are extremely apt. I found myself nodding in agreement more often than not.
“Everyone lives three versions of themselves, a public life, a private life and a secret life.” (page 130)

“Shakespeare would have it wrong these days. It’s not the world that’s the stage – it’s social media, where you’re trying to put on a show. The rest of your life is rehearsals, prepping in the wings for the fabulous online” (page 181)

“On the internet humiliation lives forever” (page 263)
The cast of characters are engaging and well-crafted, each broken in their own unique way. The story revolves around the cynical Detective Gabi Versado and her teenage daughter Layla, but there’s also TK, a homeless man trying to atone for his past; Jonno, a journalist who is desperate to make a name for himself and the Detroit Monster, a killer unlike any other. You can't help but empathise with the characters; even the killer is deserving of pity, if not compassion.  Initially it’s difficult to see how these disparate storylines would come together, but Beukes manages to deftly weave them into a breathtaking, surreal finale that both satisfies and dumbfounds.

What makes Broken Monsters unique is how the supernatural seeps into the world of the real. How the empty, abandoned spaces of Detroit play host to something otherworldy that crosses the boundaries of the real and unreal. A dream made flesh crafting flesh into dreams. It’s difficult to explain without going into spoilers. I might have said too much already... You’ll just have to experience this one for yourself.

The Verdict:
Broken Monsters is a dark, insomnia inducing thriller that will have you dwelling on its meaning for days afterward. Interwoven in the narrative is a complex and thought-provoking look at life in the internet age and how social media impacts our humanity. All of this is portrayed in Beukes’ distinctive genre-defying style. This is set to become one of those divisive novels; some people will love it, others will loathe it.

I loved it and I’m still dazed by the entire experience. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8 (Great!)

It also gets 1000 bonus points for including:

And for those who've already read it:
What is up with the thing with the chairs? That still boggles my mind.

Infection is the answer to the chair conundrum! Only took a month to figure out, but a single line of dialogue later in the novel held the key.


  1. I'm really interested in this book but I am SO infuriated by the US/UK cover. The SA is beautiful, why on Earth did they change it? I'm trying to find a way to buy the book from SA or at least an import of the SA version. The US one is JUST SO UGLY!!!!!

  2. You could give The Book Lounge a try http://www.booklounge.co.za/. I think they ship internationally at quite reasonable prices. They might even be able to get you a signed copy.

    There's also Skoobs Theatre of Books (info@skoobs.co.za). They might be able to make a plan too.

  3. Thank you so much for the tips! With Kalahari, the shipping is more expensive than the book. I'm going to ask The Book Lounge and Skoobs, thank you!

  4. Yes, shipping is extremely expensive over here. Might be a good idea to get a couple of books in an order, or at the very least try to get signed ones to make it worth the extra cost.

    Let me know how it turns out.