Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Loren Kruger Clarifies Her Stance on Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls at WiSER Seminar

Lauren Beukes

Loren Kruger, who wrote a recent draft paper suggesting Lauren Beukes suppressed all traces of significant sources in The Shining Girls, defended her speculation in a WiSER seminar yesterday.

MoxylandZoo City (SA edition)The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters

Imagining the Edgy CityThe Drama of South Africa

Kruger, who grew up and went to university in South Africa but is now a professor of comparative literature at the University of Chicago in the United States, presented her paper at the University of Witwatersrand yesterday, and fielded some questions about her methods and choice of terminology, which had caused Beukes some consternation:

Kruger – who made it clear that her paper is a work in process – reiterated her belief that Beukes relied on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, an account of the real life 1890s-era serial killer HH Holmes, to form her character Harper Curtis. It was unclear whether Kruger had seen Beukes’ response on Twitter or her public Facebook page, where the author said: “I’m afraid I specifically avoided HH Holmes so he wouldn’t be an influence and while I own a copy of Devil and the White City, I still haven’t read it.”

“My concern with Beukes is not that she’s using multiple sources,” Kruger said. “I hope I make that clear, I think the pastiche of multiple sources is really what pulp fiction is about. What concerns me is that this [The Devil in the White City] is the key source for the character that Harper Curtis presents himself to be and it’s just striking to me that it doesn’t get a mention. And I wonder what that has to do with the way in which the research was conducted and the way in which the book was marketed.”

The Real vs the Imaginary

Kruger noted that her main criticism of The Shining Girls is the problematic relationship between the real and the imaginary. Kruger believes Beukes sets the novel up as having a solid grounding in the “real” Chicago, which is part of the reason for its success as the fantastic fictional events then become more surprising and powerful. However, she also believes Beukes fails to sustain that authenticity.

“What is interesting about Beukes’ fiction is that on the one hand she wants a certain grounding in urban specifics, but on the other hand moves away from them. What’s interesting to me about speculative fiction, or what [Margaret] Atwood calls social science fiction, is not that it’s simply happening in a galaxy far, far away but that it has some purchase on the way we think now about the world we might inhabit, say, 50 years hence. So it matters, for example, that she gets right where she puts Harper at a particular moment, in which Chicago, or when Chicago. So she’s thinking carefully about both time and place, and perhaps I’m just holding her to the standard that’s implied by the book itself, by its specificity, and by the claims, at least in the American edition, of her sources,” she said.

“Part of my dissatisfaction with The Shining Girls is that she does seem to want not just spacial specificity but temporal specificity. In other words ‘this is Chicago at a particular moment’. If the novel were simply set in some future space it wouldn’t perhaps be important but clearly she does want, and this is perhaps the background in journalism, to be very specific. At certain points, it seems to me, where she’s inviting us to look at the specificity she’s not being specific enough. If you don’t want to invite veracity questions then why be so specific?”

Kruger believes Beukes succesfully negotiated the “slipstream” between reality and the imaginary in both Moxyland and Zoo City, but that in The Shining Girls influences beyond her authorial power muscled in behind the scenes.

“Part of the frisson, part of the thrill of the book, that keeps you going, is the slipstream between plausibility and complete fakery, and it’s that that interests me; it’s a very fine line. It seems to me she pulls it off, that balance of plausibility and fakery, in the first two novels in a way in which she doesn’t in The Shining Girls, and I think part of that has to do with relying on a committee of researchers to a far greater degree than she did in the first two.”

Unintended Publishing Conspiracies and “Theft” – But Not Plagiarism

When asked about the insinuation of a “conspiratorial” relationship between author and publisher, Kruger said she would prefer the word “convergence”, and does not see the author as necessarily complicit in the intentions of a large publishing companies: “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy between her and the publishers. What I see is a convergence between her project and the project of multinational multimedia conglomerates to circulate product. Which isn’t to say that individual authors in their orbit are merely cogs in the machine, but the way in which this work is produced does make it difficult to decide, ‘okay, this is the authors work’ or ‘this is the author’s work in collaboration’, sometimes intentional, sometimes beyond the author’s intention. And it’s that that interests me.”

She also clarified her use of the word “theft”, saying she was in fact utilising a term originated by Eric Lott in his Love and Theft, and strongly denied that she was implying Beukes plagiarised in The Shining Girls:

“I should also make it clear when I used the word theft – as opposed to plagiarism, which is not a word I used because I don’t think what’s going on here is plagiarism – there is a very useful book on a completely different subject by Eric Lott called Love and Theft [...] Theft in the production of fiction happens all the time. But I want to see not just more of the love but also a more sustained engagement with the way you’re twisting the sources.”

Beukes, like many of the seminar attendees, got the distinct impression that a form of plagiarism is what Kruger was implying:

Author Interview on the Cards?

One of Beukes’ main complaints in her social media retort was that Kruger had not contacted her to discuss her sources:

Kruger said she had her reasons for doing so, but did not discount a dialogue with Beukes in the future, “if she will talk to me”.

“I didn’t conduct any interviews because I wanted to get a sense of the novels as I read them as other people read them, and the intentions as they are embedded in the text,” Kruger said.

“Having done interviews in the past, with theatre people rather than novelists, they’re a complicated form of fiction and I wanted at least in this initial round, this is far from publication, to work with the text.”

Kruger ended by saying the seminar discussion had been immensely helpful and thanked the participants for their observations.

Book details


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    July 22nd, 2014 @19:36 #

    Very happy to chat to Ms Kruger at any time to clarify anything at all. My email is on my website or she's welcome to phone me via my publisher.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    July 23rd, 2014 @00:05 #

    Oh come ON. Talk about backpedaling -- "when I said 'theft', I didn't mean THEFT theft"? That's almost funny: anyone else spot that the charge of *theft that doesn't mean theft* from the Millennium novels has been dropped? Which leaves the categorical statement that there was *theft that doesn't mean theft* from Devil and the White City. The big eggy-face problem for Kruger is that Lauren didn't use it as a source. Not a case of "she said v. she said" either -- I would have known if she had. I started reading synopses and samples for TSG in September 2011. I saw every draft. I nitpicked my way through Lauren's research. And I wasn't the only one. And as Lauren's editor, I happen to know exactly how "this work was produced" in publishing terms, and I'm afraid Kruger's confident assertions on this topic are, um, fictitious. Frankly, I'm not taking this seriously any more, and neither should anyone else.

  • Jennifer
    July 23rd, 2014 @09:05 #

    Thanks Lauren. Here's hoping you and the prof. can have a constructive conversation.

  • JadeLotus
    July 23rd, 2014 @11:54 #

    I'd love to challenge Loren Kruger to write a work of fiction. It doesn't have to be long, say 2000 words. Then let's open it up to those following this debate and I assure you, Ms Kruger, we will bring you stories that are similar to yours: stories you've never even heard of! When you have done this, then you will begin to understand the nature of fiction, the universal unconscious, how things overlap, as well as how each work is unique.


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat