22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Improved Second Novel,
This review is from: Zoo City (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)This book is Lauren Beukes' second cyberpunk novel. As with her first novel, Moxyland, 'Zoo City' is set in an alternate-world South Africa. 'Moxyland', though intriguing, failed to sustain my interest all the way through. It flitted repeatedly from character to character, all of whom I struggled to empathise with. 'Zoo City' is an altogether more satisfying read.
This time, consistency is brought to the novel by use of single voice. Zinzi is a trying-to-reform addict, who once upon a time, had a bright future ahead of her. All that remains now is a dark and troubled past. The novel's central premise is interesting; those who have sinned are given an animal familiar, which they must succour and sustain. This obvious sign of guilt (in some cases, literally a monkey on the back), makes these 'animalled' sinners social pariahs. They are corralled in a decrepit ghetto known as 'Zoo City'. Alongside these animal familiars comes a supernatural ability. Something minor, and often both a blessing and a curse. Zinzi can find people's lost things.
'Zoo City' is essentially a cyberpunk detective novel. Zinzi is hired to find a missing girl, an assignment that pays well and seems straightforward enough. Of course, things are not what they seem.
Initially, I found the novel a little bewildering. Scene changes happened quickly, sometimes abruptly. A host of characters are introduced, as is a lot of information about Buekes alternate reality. It is refreshing to read a sci-fi novel set away from the Northern/Western hemisphere, but when reading from middle England, downtown Jo'burg can seem like another world, even without adding in 'Mashavi, 'aposymbiots' and 'Muti' mysticism. The interleaving of excerpts from fictitious newspapers, scientific papers and websites, bring a deep authenticity to Beukes world, but they do also add to the confusion.
Then, about halfway through, it all slipped into place, and I found myself deeply immersed in Beukes' creation. Zinzi is an engaging narrator throughout, and after a number of teasing hints about her back story, it is impossible not to root for this tough-but-vulnerable character. There are some glorious pop-culture references, a wry nod to Philip Pullman and a wonderful use of a Phil Collins lyric, that is worth the cover price alone.
The novel's storyline is a pleasing take on a fairly traditional private eye story, with some distinctly non-traditional elements. The novel's conclusion is both gruesome and exciting, and its denouement is pleasantly unexpected. I finished 'Zoo City' with a distinct sense of satisfaction. It is a novel that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts, and well worth a read.