Book review: Zoo City

Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City

Author: Lauren Beukes
Publisher: Angry Robot

Returning with her second release from Angry Robot, Lauren Beukes stuns with a richly textured venture into a pseudo-fantastical Johannesburg of the future where criminals are magically partnered with animals, and unscrupulous record producers run amok. Zinzi December is the protagonist in this story, a grimy schlep through a South Africa where apartheid is running high, but against society’s criminals rather than its skin tones. Zinzi has a sloth on her back, and her mashavi – or aposymbiote, to use the scientific terminology – has gifted her with the ability to find lost things. She takes on a missing persons case, and events go rapidly downhill.

Beukes’s story is a tightly focused yarn that tantalises with excerpts regarding the wider world while resisting the temptation to become sprawling. Her characterisation is taut and layered – while not immensely likeable, Zinzi is sympathetic, and the supporting characters enthral and infuriate with equal measure. The real star of the story, however, is her South Africa, as we found ourselves wrapped up in the world she so effortlessly depicts.
Problems exist in some areas. Beukes, herself a former journalist, seems most confident when handling areas related to that occupation within the narrative, and the slowdown is palpable when the story calls for a different presentation of Zinzi. Likewise, the lack of empathy demonstrated by some central characters, supposedly protagonists, can be hard to swallow. But all in all this is a fine novel that will wrap itself around your imagination like a sloth on your own shoulders.

[isbn name=”Zoo City”]978-0857660541[/isbn]