Lauren Beukes is the author of The Shining Girls, Zoo City, Moxyland, Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past and the graphic novel, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom with Inaki Miranda. And arriving in stores next week is Broken Monsters, about a criminal mastermind who creates violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses.
You’ve never been afraid to explore bleak subject matter in your novels, but Broken Monsters is perhaps you darkest. It stars a serial killer with a penchant for human taxidermy, after all. What was the glimmer of an idea that sparked Broken Monsters into fruition? And were you aware during its writing of just how dark and terrifying the story would turn out to be?
Well, maybe not quite taxidermy but certainly very disturbing body art. It started, as most of my books do, with a vivid image, of the body of a boy, half-human, half-deer discovered in a tunnel marked with peculiar graffiti. It’s a very dreamy tableau, brought down to earth by the corporeal details and the sardonic dismay of the female detective who has seen some bad stuff in Detroit, but nothing like this. I knew immediately what the body was and who had killed him and whyand that the unraveling of the case and the lives of the people caught up in the peripheries would lead to a pretty dark place. The book is about broken people and how we deal with that and the monsters of ambition and pride and fear, and I wanted to treat that with compassion. The killer does terrible, terrible things, but what drives him is ultimately very human – that desire to be recognized, to be seen, to feel known.
Broken Monsters reminded me of classic Stephen King horror. Are you a King fan, or has he had any influence on your writing?
I love Stephen King’s work and grew up reading him, from Carrie to The Shining, his collections of short stories and, still my favourite, It. I love how he uses twisted conceits as a way of exploring who we are in the world. His characters are so vivid and real. Each page breathes with them. I think it was a natural progression to move from Roald Dahl’s dark and twisty stories with a social conscience to King’s. The other writers who have had a huge influence on me include Alan Moore (ditto inventive storytelling and picking at the human condition), Margaret Atwood, William Gibson, Jeff Noon, Joyce Carol Oates, and David Mitchell.