Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

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I’m just meat with faulty programming.

I had so much fun reading this book! It’s an edgy, sexy, horror-laced thriller set in a reimagined Johannesburg and centres on Zinzi, a 419 scammer with a special talent for finding lost things. Oh, and Zinzi also happens to be a Zoo: In this fantastical alternate world, the convicted acquire an animal which attaches itself to them – a shameful reminder of their status as a criminal. And if the idea of lugging about your misdeeds in animal form is not horrifying enough, this branding also comes with the creeping presence of the hellish Undertow (whether psychological or real, whenever this thing showed up, it made my skin crawl). With a Sloth on her back and a penchant for getting herself into the worse kind of trouble, Zinzi is lured into helping a sleazy music producer locate a very special missing thing – a person.

This is only my second Lauren Beukes novel (and I look forward to more). I loved the more recent The Shining Girls with all its gritty gore and its badass female protagonist. Zoo City is one of her older novels, but it’s still a thrilling treat – it also won the Arthur C Clarke back in 2011. The writing is enticing and quickly sucks you into an urban underworld of violence, magic and horror. The city of Johannesburg is brought vividly to life as we follow Zinzi through the filthy slums of Zoo City, home to the animalled underclass and shadowed by the Undertow, right into the foyers of the dazzlingly rich sans scruples. If you live in or frequent Jozi, like I do, you’ll have the most eerily fun experience recognising all the familiar places mentioned throughout the novel – from Rosebank to Hillbrow, and everything in between. And Zinzi, with her smart mouth, dripping attitude, is the perfect tour guide.

There are quite a few subplots in this book, and I’ll admit I lost my way with a few of them. Clues, characters and briefly mentioned events are much more entangled that they first appear. Chapters are dispersed with web-posts, media reports and magazine articles. And while these flesh out the plot and characters, and gives the novel a cool and current vibe, I found myself having to backtrack quite a few times and hunt for references. Nevertheless, the novel is deftly plotted and intricate, and if you can overlook one or two minor plot holes, it’s a very satisfying read. I found it exciting to read something purely fun and completely out of my bookish comfort zone.

Definitely a delicious, criminally good read.

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