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Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters Launched with Rebecca Davis at The Book Lounge

Lauren Beukes

 

Grime and decay, the brokenness of humanity and a stellar author who looked exceptionally glamorous in shocking pink hair and an understated little black number – this curious admixture drew an eager crowd of fans to The Book Lounge for the launch of the latest, hot-off-the-press book from South African literary superstar Lauren Beukes: Broken Monsters.

The owner of the independent bookshop, Mervyn Sloman, described Broken Monsters as “absolutely wonderful”. “It is dark, crazy, insane, mad – everything we expect from Lauren Beukes!”

Rebecca Davis and Lauren BeukesBroken MonstersThe author opened the event with a dramatic reading that elucidated the praise being showered on the book, and was joined in a vibrant exchange by well-known journalist, Rebecca Davis.

Davis described the book as “genuinely frightening and compulsively readable”. She said it possessed all the hallmarks of Beukes’ writing, her “fantastic ear for dialogue, brilliant eye for scene and detail, and a knack of creating truly memorable characters”. She highlighted one of the themes that characterises the book as represented by Atilla, who fuses animal parts to humans, and asked Beukes about the mental processes that took her to that particular place. Beukes responded with a hearty laugh, and conceded that she may have stolen a character from Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now.

Beukes won the Arthur C Clarke award for Zoo City in 2011, and Davis commented on her reputation as “the next big thing” in science fiction, asking her to define Broken Monsters in a genre. “Is it horror, thriller, science fiction?” Davis asked.

“It’s been described as Stephen King meets Thomas Harris doing Hill Street Blues,” Beukes replied, calling it a crossover that’s part crime thriller, with a big cast narrative.

Describing the process of writing, Beukes confessed that it has become harder for her to write, not easier, with each progressive success. “I try to be more ambitious, to do new things with each book. The reality of that is that one might fail, but I’d rather try than just write the cookie cutter version,” she said, adding that she does not actually enjoy writing: “I have friends who love it, who fall into it and get carried away. Sarah Lotz jumps straight in, but I’m the one backing off down the stairs of the diving board. Once I get into writing, I enjoy it, but it’s lonely, gruelling in-your-head work.”

When asked about her research techniques, Beukes revealed how she took the best doughnuts she could find on her fact-gathering expedition to the Detroit Police Department’s Bureau of Homicide. She also recalled how her friend met her at the airport in his neighbour’s car, which he had borrowed for the day – a big black van that “looked like a murder wagon”. As it so happened, the neighbour ran a funeral home and the borrowed vehicle was the mortuary van fresh from having delivered a corpse.

Davis observed the vivid descriptions of Detroit, which “almost becomes a secondary character in the book”. Beukes agreed, and confirmed that she is greatly attracted to Detroit, and fascinated by the city’s parallels with Johannesburg, which she wrote about in Zoo City: “It’s one of the most segregated cities, one of the most violent and corrupt. It looks like Hillbrow, like a blighted horrible ruin from the outside, yet people live there. There’s an amazing vibrancy and energy in the city.”

The setting gave her the opportunity to explore the American Dream and its failure. “There are people proposing that the ruins in Detroit are preserved, like the Parthenon! It’s an interesting, yet conflicted place,” she said, adding that she was glad to have been told by Detroit residents that she’d got under the city’s skin in her depiction.

Davis quizzed Beukes on being one of the people who can legitimately claim they are “from the Internet” and how this has “changed everything, from flirting to journalism”. Beukes reflected ruefully on how much time she spends on Twitter rather than on writing: “The internet enables us to connect in powerful new ways. It’s changed the way we interact with the world,” she said.

Finally, Beukes spoke about how Broken Monsters is preoccupied with the subconscious and the way things emerge into consciousness. “That’s a theme in all my work, but in this book particularly,” she said “The Internet is our id, it is the subconscious, the dreaming world. It’s where everything we are emerges in weird and interesting ways we never could predict.” She reflected on the scary, faceless “Slenderman”, an Internet meme that inspired two American preteens to sacrifice their friend to the imaginary character. “We don’t have to worry about Satanism any more,” she said. “If not Slenderman, they’d have tried to kill her for Jody Foster …”

A highlight of the evening was the exquisite care taken by Verushka Louw and her Book Lounge team, who strung dreamcatchers in the windows and black streamers against the ceilings for a great effect.

Liesl Jobson tweeted the event using the hashtag #livebooks:

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    July 9th, 2014 @19:51 #
     
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    It looks like a fantastic evening for what is sure to be an outstanding novel, I wish I could have been there.

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