Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Lauren Beukes - Zoo City

Lauren Beukes's Zoo City is set in a contemporary alternate reality to our own, where the guilt of crimes manifest themselves as animal familiars. The books's protagnonist, Zinzi December, has a sloth. However, the bad tempered fuzz ball is the least of her worries. She's a recovering addict with a large debt to pay off to a local crime boss who specialises in scam emails.

This is a novel that roots the weird firmly in the pedestrian. Zinzi is forced to live below the radar of society, facing prejudice daily on account of being a 'Zoo'. Having a sloth on her back does come with certain advantages, however. Each familiar bestows a mashavi, or spirtiual gift. In Zinzi's case this allows her to find lost things, passports, wedding rings and so forth. However, when her client ends up dead she's forced to take on an altogether more serious job -- to find a missing person.

Told in the first person, Beukes seamlessly fuses a hardboiled detective noir sensibility into a tale of life lived on the fringes in a hostile and frequently violent South Africa. The prose is direct and unvarnished, Zinzi has no illusions about how wretched her situation is, only that she won't go down without a fight.

Beukes makes good use of her journalistic experience, and shows a dark underside of South Africa that is rarely (if ever) mentioned in SFF. Zoo City is also notable for having a female black lead, a rarity in fiction but doubly so in the Speculative Fiction genre.

This is a gritty, no-nonsense novel that relies on the reader to go with the flow of exotic terms and colloquialisms of South African street life.

Zoo City is one of the titles in our Women in SFF section. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2010. For a deeper review check out this site HERE.

- Den Patrick

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