Book: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Ok wow it’s been a zillion years but I finally finished a book! I have been waaaay too busy and haven’t made time for reading at all. A few times this winter I tried to pick up a book but got distracted, disengaged and picked up something else, then did the same thing again. So I have about 10 books around the house that I’ve started but then bailed on. That’s not like me, I love reading and when I start something I see it through. So I’m trying to get my ass back in gear. This was an easy re-entry, a YA book based on the Manson family and the murders in the late 60’s.
The Girls is about Evie’s relationship with the girls from the ranch where the debonair Russell would preach free love and plot a revenge murder spree. It is an interesting approach to a retelling of the Manson murders through the eyes of someone who didn’t even participate in the bizarre ritualistic killings, but followed the girls through their transformation into blind followers of Russell. The narrative is set up with an adult Evie telling her story through flashbacks. This is a fine way to tell the story, but I feel like it kind of fell flat in this application; “adult” Evie didn’t really offer much insight into why a young woman would became involved in this type of cult and how she felt about the crimes as a grown woman. I feel like there was an opportunity there to flesh things out and show Evie’s growth as a character following what was a potentially life-changing series of events but the adult Evie didn’t offer much substance. Additionally, if Cline intended to draw parallels between Julian and his girlfriend and the relationships Russell had with the girls then the message was too subtle. So I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of including a grown Evie was, apart from using the device to make the book seem more interesting than it really was.
The story dragged for me a lot and it took me way longer to finish than it should have. Not much happens for the majority of the book and then the ending seems anti-climactic because Evie wasn’t even present for the big finish. There was a lot of Evie admiring the girls, particularly Suzanne who she seems to be in love with, but there was very little actual development of the girls as individual characters. They felt a bit like cardboard cut outs jammed in the background, and less like characters that actually interacted with Evie. But perhaps that was the point; Evie was there but her connection was very superficial, she didn’t really know anybody and was more of a fly on the wall. That being the case I’m not sure why the story would need to be retold through such a far-removed lens when a closer account would certainly be more eventful. With the girls being so underdeveloped as characters I don’t think this book can be hyped as a book about “The Girls” as the title alludes… I will say that I enjoyed the atmosphere the book created; Evie is a 14 year old girl with a wealthy upbringing learning about who she really was in the dreamy and turbulent 60’s. It reminded me a lot of the Virgin Suicides which I really loved, and I also had lots of common ground with Evie and that always makes a book more enjoyable for me. Overall I like the idea of the Manson Girls inspiring young adult fan fiction 48 years later, and the vibe of the book was really good. Evie was a good character, even though I wanted to dig into her head a bit more (but maybe that’s just me.)
A nice debut from Emma Cline!
Recommended to: If you loved the dreamy pastel visuals of Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides (based on the book by Jeffrey Eugenides) then you’ll dig this.