Saturday, 4 June 2016

Review: 'The Girls' by Emma Cline

Something about the blurb of this novel drew me in straight away. I'm really dipping into this whole 'girl in the title'-novel trend because I'm simply fascinated by it. And in the case of The Girls there is also a historical edge to it, which makes it right up my alley. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/06/2016
Publisher: Random House UK
California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life....
Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. 
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
In some ways The Girls is, as I hinted in my introduction, "simply" another book in the current craze of books with 'girl' in the title. So it wouldn't be amiss to say something about where this trend comes from. As such, the answer is quite simple. With the success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train it become popular to put 'girl' in the title of books in order to make them sell. However, I agree with Megan Abbott who says this trend is about more than just sales:
"I think there's really something at the root of the popularity of Flynn's and Hawkins' books that is far more important than branding or marketing, and I think it's the universal themes that you see in these books that speak to female readers." (NPR)
Something about the darkness which these kind of female-authored, female-centered books bring to their readers is quite unique and new, and it resonates with a whole new audience of female readers. For so long female characters have always been held back by their authors because they felt the need to infuse them with a sense of innate goodness. The only reason a woman could be the bad guy was because she was psychotic, not because perhaps there were different shades to the female character as well. And the new wave of books focusing on girls is opening up how female characters can act, which I'm eternally grateful for.

The Girls centers around a fictionalized version of the Manson-cult, which terrified America during the summer of 1969. Emma Cline takes pretty much direct inspiration from this cul, its worshipping of a male leader figure and it's commune-like nature. But at the true heart of the novel are its girls. There's Evie, a fourteen-year old who finds herself in the middle of a Californian summer with nothing except herself. Set for a large part in '69, Cline describes a time in which the world was slightly different, when there was no social media, when gender relations were still muddier and when an unlocked door maybe wasn't an immediate alarm bell. Her girls are left to themselves, to wonder when their parents suddenly became just people with problems, when the world stopped offering them something interesting. Again, this type of narrative is perfect for anyone who is interested in it. Exploring the darker undertones of teenagehood, of teenage boredom and the struggles between parents and teenagers. Contrasting these relatively normal worries with the tensions of being drawn into a cult and dealing with being exposed to your own darker side.

The story moves quite fluidly between  1969 and the present, with Evie revealing small aspects of her experiences with the cult while also dealing with the world as viewed through darker-tinged glasses. Just like Evie, the reader is desperate to get back to '69, to get a grasp on what actually happened but also because there is just something fascinating and enticing about how humans become evil, how cults work etc. These kinds of books draw you in and by the end you're just a little bit shell-shocked, asking yourself what you would do in that position. Cline's writing is hypnotic, revealing what's inside of Evie's head without spelling everything out exactly. Her descriptions of California in '69, how arid it is, how slowly time goes, the listless days on the ranch. It feels both enticing and disgusting, which must be exactly what Cline wanted. Cline's attention to the girls in the cult, especially on how Evie focuses on Suzanne, feels quite singular because the whole cult of the Manson-family mainly centers on Manson himself. Cline investigates what it is about the girls that makes them follow Russel, where their darkness comes from and how easy it can be to go wrong.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I raced through The Girls in two nights, absolutely fascinated. Something about Cline's writing style is very enticing and it is a perfect addition to this new genre of women's fiction. I'd recommend this to fans of women's fiction and crime fiction.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting, I've read someone's review whop was impressed with this, but you definitely are. I feel like this is going to be one readers either hate or love, with not anything inbetween

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