Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Categories Books, Projects
Reading Time: 2 minutes


Synopsis rom GoodReadsZinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons. 

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow. 

Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.

I read this as part of Ellie’s Sci-Fi read along challenge for 2012. Sadly for me since I read it on the kindle I didn’t get the pretty cover above, one of the downsides of not reading real paper books I suppose!

Zoo City is a novel based in South Africa, which isn’t a country I know a massive amount about and whilst I didn’t find that detracted too much from the story it always bothers me when books write certain words in other languages and fail to translate them. (See Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World for that annoyance, too).

Overall I enjoyed this book but I felt really let down by the ending. I felt like the loose threads were lingering and things that could have been explained weren’t. I don’t want to give too much away for the people still reading it (Hi, Amy) but the premise of people carrying animals as a signal of guilt is a good one. I enjoyed His Dark Materials and whilst this is similar in nature the storyline is obviously more complex.

Things I liked: The idea that each animal brings with it it’s own magic ability is a good one, altho I’m not sure why people who have been found guilty of murder have been rewarded with a magic gift.

Things I didn’t: So many loose ends! How did she end up killing her brother in the first place? What exactly is the undertow? I didn’t feel like the death of the old lady really tied in with the rest of the book, some bits felt forced or jammed in to make the rest of it work.

Favourite character: Definitely the sloth. Most of the people in this book were bad to the core.

Other books to try: His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness.

Rating: 3 out of 5

11 thoughts on “Review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

  1. I got the feeling her brother’s death was more of accident because she was off her head on drugs but I agree it could have been a bit clearer. Definitely more on the undertow would have been good – the fact that she tried to explain some of it made me want to know more. If it was just a straight fantasy, this is what it is, accept it, I don’t think it would have mattered so much.

    1. I thought that too, although it seems harsh to be punished for an accident and I wish it had been explained a bit more. I enjoyed it a lot, but I felt a bit let down by the ending because it suddenly took a sharp turn towards something else and I think it was a little rushed.

  2. Heh, thanks for the spoiler consideration.

    I’m about 2/3 through and I genuinely have no idea what I think of this book. I want to know what happens, but I don’t particularly care about Zinzi and I keep shouting “THIS IS WEIRD” in my head.

  3. I think there were too many loose ends too and that the ending felt a little rushed. Like Ellie I thought her brothers death was an accident but it would have been nice to have gotten all the details. I quite liked Zinzi even if she wasn’t a particularly nice person.

    I thought the old lady was murdered by the people who hired Zinzi. Got the feeling they knew about her and wanted to put her in a position where she couldn’t not accept their offer.

    1. Ah, you’re probably right about the old lady. I’m not a big fan of having to speculate on some plot points – maybe I’m being a bit obtuse with this book but I found myself second guessing it a lot to make connections.

      I’d like to read a prequel to this maybe, more about the animals and the undertow and how the world turned into something so different.

  4. I think I enjoyed this one more than you did 🙂

    I agree that the end was a bit loose, but I sorta liked that. It fitted the whole style of the novel in that Beukes never told you everything that was going on and likewise, we don’t get the whole picture at the end.

    I wonder, is the magic gift a reward, or maybe a way of offering people the opportunity to make some sort of amends?

    1. I’m not a big fan of books that make me guess the endings to be honest, heh. I’d rather they just gave me something concrete to enjoy, but everyone has a different style of reading I suppose! I did enjoy it, although I’m not sure I’d read it again.

      Amends is a good idea, I guess the stigma of having an animal in the first place means you can never really enjoy the reward it brings. Although I thought the way that each animal was different and seemingly chosen at random was an odd choice, like the wife would could keep her bird in a handbag. Were they chosen by the magnitude of the crime?

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