The Girls was one of the biggest, most hyped books of 2016. Debut author Emma Cline’s manuscript sparked a bidding war and was optioned by a powerful Hollywood producer long before it even reached shelves.
Amy Adams-lookalike Cline is young, enigmatic, and like the heroine of her novel, grew up in sun-kissed California. Her coming-of-age tale however is set during the late sixties, and is sensationally inspired by the infamous Manson cult and their brutal murders.
The stroy is seen through the eyes of 14-year-old outsider Evie Boyd. Her parents are newly divorced; her father is living with his young girlfriend in another town, while Evie’s mother is busy dating and following every New Age trend going.
Evie studies the studio portrait of her late maternal grandmother, a famous, beautiful actress. “The realization was bracing” she thinks, “we looked nothing alike.” Poor Evie has a dour best friend who finds a new best friend, who then throws a drink in Evie’s face.
Crippled with insecurity and at a loose end, Evie’s the kind of girl whom Russell Hadrick preys on. He’s teaching his followers about a “new kind of society”, one that’s “free from racism, free from exclusion, free from hierarchy.” Only it’s not Russell, but his teenage lieutenant Suzanne, who holds a dark glamour for Evie. Girls tend to be more obsessed with each other.
Some of the girls in thrall to Russell have vague histories of abuse and violence, but Suzanne’s a sly one – her past and her motives and feelings for Evie remain obscure.
During her long summer at the group’s decrepit ranch, Evie becomes a little less passive, acquiring coarser edges from Suzanne and the others as they scavenge, steal, and drop acid.
It’s been compared to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, which was also a queasily authentic look at the horrors of being a teenage girl. The section with an older Evie aren’t so successful – Cline perhaps struggling to capture the mind of someone older then herself.
It would be a bleak and weirdly woozy debut about the forces that shape and ruin girls’ lives without the cult-murder backdrop -although perhaps it wouldn’t have been so hyped. I’m just glad I finally crossed it off the reading list.