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adj: noisy and difficult to control

As I add another new word to my growing collection I start to realise something. The words I have been finding are not always completely alien to me even though I might think I’ve never heard them before.  I look up Obstreperous in my kindle after underlining it in Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls and find it right there in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I knew I had seen it before, it had been floating around for a while before it finally hit my consciousness. I hope now it will manage to stick in my memory.

I find obstreperous an interesting word. The dictionary gives an example of its use: “The boy is cocky and obstreperous.” It appears to be one of the words heavy with gender, seeming to be a typically male characteristic. From Middlesex I see the same thing: “Boys can be very obstreperous.” This is of course spoken by the main character, Calliope, a hermaphrodite who is raised as a girl and later decides to become a boy. Eugenides’s novel raises many question about gender roles and prejudice, just as The Shining Girls does, covering issues surrounding women in the 20th century.

I finished reading The Shining Girls recently and found it  gripping. It centers around a serial killer in Chicago who travels in time throughout the 1900s finding and targeting his victims; young, bright, and promising women. His shining girls.

The Shining Girls paperback

UK cover of The Shining Girls

At points the violence can feel stomach churning. Be warned, reading on public transport is not advised for two reasons:

1. You will feel queasy if you are stuck on a crowded bus during a murder.

2. You will get strange looks from fellow passengers as your face contorts in grimaces and shock.

However it is not unbearable and it is completely different from what could be called “violence porn”. (I’m looking at you, Only God Forgives.) The murder scenes are not actually terribly graphic but they seem so violent, and are so moving, because Beukes takes her time introducing us to the women first, therefore we feel each loss personally.

The Shining Girls, as the name suggests, focuses on the victims and the aftermath of their deaths, rather than the killer. Not only is the novel a testament to these extraordinary women of Chicago, but it is also a comment on how society seizes upon them, hoping to feed off them and crush their spirit.

Thankfully our heroine, Kirby, survives her attack and goes on a quest to find her would be killer. She is an indomitable force, a funny, determined young woman who is described at one point as obstreperous:

“You’re being obstreperous.”
“Word of the day!” she teases.

Thanks, Kirby. It is now my word of the day!


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