I review The Girls by Emma Cline.
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.
There seems to be an air of mystery surrounding this book and its author. Who is Emma Cline, and what influenced this book? A quick Google search didn’t turn up with much, except that the events in The Girls are loosely based on the Manson murders. The rest, it would seem, is fiction.
But what is fiction, if it isn’t drawn from real life? Cline manages to capture the essence of being a teenage girl perfectly – because, presumably, she was one once – and breathe meaning into the way they live. The desperation of being wanted, needed; the acts this desperation becomes. The almost obsession with other girls; the fuzzy line between admiration and sexual tension. I’m sure it’s not unfair to say that many, if not most, of us women who were once teenage girls felt this undercurrent of sexuality and insecurities and unworthiness. The cusp between girlhood and womanhood is an awkward, tense phase, one that offers many lessons but isn’t much missed.
The girls in question are mainly Evie Boyd, outcast and awkward, Suzanne, feisty and free, and the other young women who hold on to Russell for dear life. Russell is the rock star, the celebrity who oozes sex appeal and seems to only attract teenage girls. He seems to have a magnetic quality, drawing the troubled and the delinquent, with the promise of free love and a free life, and they flock to him like moths to a flame. But, like those moths, they end up getting burned. Everything goes up in smoke when Russell asks of them the inconceivable, the unforgivable, and, under his influence, in defense of his honour, they commit atrocities.
The Girls is a triumphant debut, a story of love and hurt and how the two overlap. Due to be released mid-June, I imagine this novel will be very well-received, and if a film doesn’t come out of it (I can definitely see JLaw in the role of Suzanne), I’ll be utterly surprised.
For more information on The Girls and to enter a giveaway to win a copy, head over to Goodreads.