I review The Burning Girl by Claire Messud.
Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.
Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.
Girls. They’re the subject of choice these days. The Girl On The Train, Girls On Fire, Gone Girl… we seem to be obsessed with the inner workings of girls – or women, as the case may be. But The Burning Girl really is about girls – particularly the friendship between girls, and how utterly complex it can be. As close as sisters, as vicious as enemies, the friendships between girls can be stormy and intense, fulfilling and thrilling.
Cassie is a girl on fire, with a rough home life and a deep desperation to be loved. Julia, her best friend, is what you’d call a normal girl, with a fiery feminist mother and laid-back father, and an average, loving home. Julia has direction – she speaks clearly of the expectations placed upon her, that she’ll go to university and do well for herself. But Cassie has no such expectations – nobody expects her to amount to anything. And nobody is surprised when she apparently goes off the rails, screaming for attention. Or was she? I was Cassie, once upon a time, but now I’m Julia (and her mum!), so I can relate to both of these girls.
The storyline isn’t new, nor is it surprising, especially not to any female readers. But it is fresh, insightful, glorious. Messud is an incredible writer. The Burning Girl is wonderful and triumphant, and will be read in one sitting.
The Burning Girl is due out in August.