Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: ZOO CITY by Lauren Beukes

Zoo CityI’m on a bit of an animal accomplice kick lately, having recently finished HARD BITE with helper monkey Sid, and now ZOO CITY with a sloth backpacking on Beukes’ main character Zinzi.

I like ZOO CITY more for the concept than actual story that is until the darker side of key players comes to light. Beukes creates a world teaming with real world comparisons separated by unique twists of the fantastical. The plot, once established, is pretty straight forward and conforms to the typical PI case format comprising a series of interviews, background digging, violent encounters etc as the protagonist, Zinzi December, and her sloth source the target.

Having previously used her talents on trinkets or minor items of significance to their owners, the PI gig is a step into the unknown. Odi Huron, by way of an eccentric couple who specialise in ‘procurement’, hires Zinzi to locate a missing female musician, Songweza, seen as a good girl idol for the youth – using non-traditional techniques (PI’s, cops) to keep the disappearance out of the tabloids.

One of the best scenes is separate to the core investigation itself, rather Zinzi’s battle against some thugs in the Johannesburg storm drains. It’s dark, wet and brimming with tensions and an overwhelming sense of foreboding. More of this would’ve added a much grittier undertone to the novel.

The later stages of the novel uncover sinister motives and the drafting of magic concoctions formulated by macabre means that shocks and infuriates Zinzi (and all Animalled sympathisers alike). Linked to her investigation, she winds up in the jaws of death as the case takes a turn for the worse. The fusion of PI theatrics and wild animal rage results in a truly epic conclusion which for the most part is the novel’s highlight.

The intermissions provide a glimpse at the fantastical world and the concept of the ‘Animalled’ and the alternate universe of Beukes’ creation. These deviations from the story are greatly beneficial in establishing context to the environment and enhance the overall believability of the concept.

ZOO CITY is an interesting concept, a semi sleuth with a sloth attached to her…anyone who commits a crime is forced to ‘partner-up’ with an animal which cannot leave their side. It is set in South Africa but the place setting is very much inner city American ghetto. Living in Zoo City, a kind of quarantine for the destitute criminal accompanies all the vices typical in an urban ghetto-like sprawl in prostitution, gang activity, scams (though these are run by Zinzi herself), violence, and corruption. I thought Beukes did a great job at merging reality with fiction – nothing felt forced or entirely unbelievable.

In summary: Was a little hard to get into, but worth persisting - 3.5 stars.

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