Thursday, January 12, 2012
Book Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
What is memorable, however, is how there's this continuous interaction with the reader even once you've put the book down. I've spent the past few days pondering on the possibilities of Zoo City fan fiction, and it's not everyday that such a story inspires me so. Nonwriters might simply dismiss this as the concept, the same way that they might approach an author and offer to sell them an "idea" they had. But that's not truly the case, as it's Beukes's execution (in this case, conscious restraint) that makes the novel work. I've heard comparisons to Philip Pullman's Golden Compass but I think those conclusions are unfair because the animal companions — for lack of a better term — behave differently in each novel (the social implications alone are different). There is also the way that Beukes hints, insinuates, and implies a larger backstory, but never tips her hand. In that sense, Zoo City feels like a realist novel, as the reader remains ignorant of the underlying cosmology of the world by the time they reach the end. Instead, the anchor to the narrative is the central protagonist, and her ending isn't a convenient resolution.
In terms of technique, Beukes utilizes elements of the epistolary novel to great effect. They feel authentic and modern; whether they'll date themselves in the future is best left to speculation, but as far as the present is concerned, it's well done. Nor do I feel, at any point, that they are extraneous. The inclusion is justified and again, Beukes doesn't jump at every opportunity to insert news clipping, emails, or letters. There's a compelling reason for their place in the story, and the author includes just enough to whet your appetite without breaking the momentum.
Perhaps a key element in describing Beukes's style in Zoo City is restraint. The author never feels insecure about their technique or the reader's intelligence. What you end up with is this polished novel that's clear, concise, and imaginative, without drawing too much attention to its uniqueness. That might be a detraction for some narratives but in the case of Zoo City, it works.