The Girls by Emma Cline is a novel set in the summer of 1969, California. Its protagonist, a troubled teenage girl with an affinity for unwashed women and spiders webs.
Set both in the present day and in ’69 this book shows two sides of Evie Boyd. The before and after. The present day Evie is dull as dishwater, frumpy and a loner. Living in a friends holiday home between in-house care jobs. 60s Evie is stroppy, irrational and down right irritating.
Now, I have said before on this blog that I don’t think you have to like a books characters to enjoy the story, in fact sometimes thats the whole point. I agree with that statement to a degree in this book.
The novel’s main plot focus is the cult Evie finds herself associated with, one loosely based on the Mason family. A lot of other reviews I have read of this book spend most of the time detailing the similarities or dissimilarities between the novel and the real life crimes of Charlie’s gang, but I really don’t think that is the point. Cline has taken inspiration from real life events but hasn’t written a biography of Charles Manson. This is not a book about the Mansons. Move on.
The actual main focus of the novel is a sense of awakening. Young Evie is obsessed with sex and the novel is crammed full of sticky, hot, sweet innuendo. Everything is sexual to her, she is discovering herself and her sexuality. The portions of this novel set in ’69 feel like they were written in sepia.
A line in the blurb says “The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.” And that is the exact feeling you are left with in these portions of the book. You do truly feel like you are there in the hot Californian sun, feeling the same sticky mid-puberty feelings that our main character does. Cline’s grip on language is phenomenal.
The other sense of awakening we get from this novel is a bitter cold one, like getting a bucket of ice thrown over you. Its a harsh awakening, for the reader this time. The juxtaposition of the syrupy feeling of the 60s and the cold life of older Evie allows you to grasp the aftermath of Evie’s time with the cult.
We read the events that took place through the eyes of a young girl, one desperate to grow up and have sex. Its not until she is older that the effects of that summer really take their toll. Older Evie is alone, standoffish and timid.
Though I understand the authors decision to end the book the way she did, as a reader you can’t help but feel a sense of “oh, is that it?”
An interesting read, one that explores the awakening of teen sexuality, the darkness of the human brain and how one summer can change someone forever. I must admit this isn’t one of my favourite books, but I would not discourage anyone from picking it up. Definite food for thought.
Have you read The Girls? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!