“Everyone lives three versions of themselves; a public life, a private life and a secret life.”
Hullo pips! I haven’t been updating the blog much but I’ve been reading Broken Monsters for quite some time now and still have not quite finished. To those not familiar to the novel, it is a supernatural-thriller written by Lauren Beukes who has done several award-winning novels with unique premises, one of them about a time-travelling serial-killer which I am going to read soon. Hah, look who’s excited. Anyway, Broken Monsters has an equally riveting premise that touches the horrors of the unknown, making you question what is real and not.
When I picked up this book, I’m not sure what I was up against. A generic cop-thriller, maybe? A sympathetic serial-killer? A goldfish? It was far better than that (I could do with the goldfish though) and far more different than expectations (there was no goldfish). Broken Monsters is filled with different personalities that at times it barely resembles a mystery novel. The multiple-POV approach introduces us to different characters and allows us to see the city dynamically, from a cop’s more cynical perspective to a journalist’s embellished eye for detail. What is distinct about this book is that it’s all about the characters, not the murder or the story, and the book is shaped through their drive and quirks– how each person keep up with their relationships, their jobs, their sanity and their dreams in a city that is gradually falling apart. Take Tom Perrota’s Little Children and add the hallucinatory experience and social commentary of Paranoia Agent in the mix, and you get a snarky and progressive thriller that’ll make you laugh and scared for your life.
As I read the book, I noticed how social media plays out a huge role in the story. Facebook is frequently mentioned, dialogues are written in the form of text messages, and lots of internet slang is used. Social media isn’t an uncommon theme in fictional novels. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and generally, the internet, have been around a long time so it’s not surprising to see them in novels, or in any form of art and literature. What irks me a bit about them is that authors get carried away when they try to blend social media in their books and it just comes off as a bad joke, much like how hearing tweet, like, and friend gets really tiring in sitcoms. I usually get turned off with books that try too much to be pop and modern but Beukes handles this well, particularly because she isn’t just trying to portray a ‘modern’ setting but she illustrates how social media shapes people’s everyday lives from a simple conversation to the heart of a murder case.
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 to be fabulous online.
–Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters
As the book mainly revolves around its characters, it hugely touches themes of identity. We meet several characters from different walks of life: a policewoman, a journalist, an artist, a church volunteer, and more. If you could imagine it in a less creepier sense, everyone isn’t what they appear to be and this book couldn’t punctuate it enough. The struggle in maintaining normalcy and the struggle to be different from any other else, what better way to portray an identity crisis than to juxtapose it with the freedom of expression social media entails? Yeeey.
This is the way the world is now. Everything is public. You have to find other people who understand.
–Lauren Beukes, Broken Monsters
This theme is more apparent in Layla’s POV, one of the younger characters in the story. Layla and her bestfriend Cas constantly talk like Reddit users so, in general, kids (who happens to be well-informed, well-phrased and witty 15-year olds) and they perfectly portray the 21st century teenager. It’s interesting to note how different she thinks to the way she acts to different people, especially to her mom. All her snark is just for show because in the end, she couldn’t tell her mom what she really feels. The same goes to her mother and despite knowing they’re in a good relationship, there’s a sense of disconnection between them that constantly drives them apart that not even the internet could mend. This brings to mind a Japanese film I’ve watched years ago called Suicide Club, a film that made me sick and sober at the same time. The film depicted the complicated relationships of families in an IT-driven world and the dangers of popular culture and its exploitative nature. Broken Monsters approaches similar issues but with a more humorous tone but it doesn’t make the book any less disturbing.
Interestingly enough, the author draws inspiration from the movie Paprika which is a sci-fi-fantasy movie about dreams and reality written by Satoshi Kon. And like most of Satoshi Kon’s works, Paprika illustrates the parallelism of the internet and dreams. It also has an insightful outlook about the internet and popular culture, the dangers of its apathetic nature and its detrimental influence to an obsessive public. Take Jonno, a journalist in the book, and his desperate attempts to find a scoop even when it means exploiting a victim. He starts out as a sensible writer but understands how he must keep at the times. In the end, it’s all about who could grab the most attention that gets praised by the public and thus, he succumbs into hungry culture of the internet.
And of course it’s about thwarted creativity and ambition, about the desperate human need to be recognized, acknowledged, which is at the heart of Facebook “likes” and Instagram “favorites” and “graffiti tags.” We all want to be seen and to be known and understood.
–Lauren Beukes, An Interview with Lauren Beukes
As social media has become a medium of self-expression, it’s easy to get lost and ironically so, forgotten in a sea of personalities and talents. In the end, the internet doesn’t care about you, it only cares if you’re interesting enough. There is power in self-expression and with social media, it makes the job as easy as breathing. Fear of rejection, shyness, the lack of knowledge, the internet pushes away these blocking stones and opens a world of creativity and expression that we couldn’t normally grasp in real life. The book shows the horrors of that part of our nature– the need to share a part of ourselves to others and the terrifying reality of its audiences and the ideas each and every one expresses.
THE VERDICT (70% SO FAR)
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. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams? If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe–and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world. (Goodreads)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Beukes is an award-winning, best-selling novelist who also writes screenplays, TV shows, comics and journalism. Her books have been translated into 26 languages and have been optioned for film and TV.
Her awards include the Arthur C Clarke Award, the prestigious University of Johannesburg prize, the August Derleth Prize, the Strand Critics Choice Award and the RT Thriller of the Year. She’s been honoured in South Africa’s parliament and most recently won the Mbokondo Award from the Department of Arts and Culture, celebrating women in the arts for her work in the Creative Writing field. Website | Twitter