I made the mistake of reading Broken Monsters while my husband was away for a few days playing out-of-town shows. Bad idea.
Broken Monsters is a disturbing and scary piece of work.
I couldn’t go back to sleep not because I feared that a ghost would pop out of the shadows. I just couldn’t get the picture out of my head—the body of an African-American boy cut in half and grafted onto the lower half of a deer’s carcass. The picture kept looping endlessly in my head. Pure horror!
The perpetrator of this bone-chilling crime is also the principal character in the novel. Clayton is a failed, washed out artist who imagines he is possessed by an anonymous, quasi-demonic force he calls The Dream. Victor Frankenstein gone wrong!
Clayton imagines that these human and animal parts he hacks and stitches into fleshy sculptures will one day be transfigured into something “strange and beautiful.” In a world where works of art are made to hang mute and dead on the wall of the museum, he had found a way to turn dead bodies into living art.
If you’ve read The Shining Girls: A Novel—Beukes’ other horror novel—the villain in Broken Monsters is carved out of the same wood. Her villains tend to be unattractive and disturbed. They are weirdos not in an alluring and enigmatic sort of way. They are creepy, ugly, and ghoulish.
Her villains tend to be possessed. They kill people not because they are driven by a sublime and intellectual passion for the aesthetics of murder but because they are under the influence of a dark, savagely murderous power.
I like this aspect of Beukes’ work—the way she refuses to valorize violence in the figure of the genius serial killer who has beautiful mind.
There’s nothing I find more tiresome than the intellectual serial killer.
When I watch serial killer movies—the BBC series titled The Fall is a good example—I fast forward my way through those moments when the serial killer decides he wants to quote Nietzsche or talk about the grand cycle of life or the beauty of murder. Blah, Blah, Blah. You are just a murderer. You hate and kill women. You mutilate their bodies. Don’t try to give some kind of sublimity to the savagery of your violence by evoking philosophical concepts about which you know nothing.
One last thing about the novel and then I’ll shut up.
Like her novel from two years ago, Broken Monsters is set in an American city and features American characters. Is Beukes’ novel an American or an African novel?
If you know me and how militant I am about African fiction, you’ll understand why I’m not shy about asking such a question.
My answer? Broken Monsters is as African as they come.
And this has very little to d with the fact that she is African. It’s the way she writes. After all, African writers have a few tricks of trade unique to storytelling in their part of the world. But that’s story for another day.
Image by @sugar_and_snark