The Girls (Review)

The Girls by Emma Cline deviously bases itself on a set of murders that have defined the genre of true crime. The Manson family have occupied us with morbid fascination for up to five decades; every macabre detail has been combed over and repackaged for our ready consumption. But The Girls is not a story about the gore- although it does intersperse the novel out of necessity- it’s a story about the dichotomies that shook America through the murders. The pure evil that found space to blossom during the summer of love, the pretty young things capable of gruesome executions, the untouchable celebrities decimated at the hands of the ordinary, the young innocent minds willing to do the unthinkable.

The Girls is told from the perspective of young, neglected Evie whose angst ridden relationships with her divorced parents accompanied by a sense of adolescent isolation predisposes her to the young women in the novel’s Manson-esque cult.

Attracted to their sexual confidence, fifteen years old Evie strikes up a bond with Suzanna, and slowly begins to mimic her mannerism and dress. Eager for love, escape, and adventure Evie unquestioningly inhales, snorts and drinks her way to acceptance, willingly oblivious to the impending evil.

The Girls is ultimately a tender story of girlhood, how fragile yet clumsy attempts at adulthood are frustrated by boys, parents and men who fear or wish to possess a girl’s burgeoning sexuality. Evie battles the ennui of a middleclass existence through petty crimes committed against her neighbours, and other small infractions lead by Suzanna. Imbued with a sense of exceptionalism by cult leader Russell, Evie begins to overlook the violations to her being, attributing it to an education and the promise of a higher state.

In recognising the subtle manipulations of Evie and her crippling adolescent insecurity, it’s difficult for the reader to question her choices. Rather you find yourself empathising with her as you’re flooded with memories of your own adolescence. My heart ached as the child’s innocence was cruelly stripped away leaving a deeply troubled adult, incapable of believing in herself. Cline’s greatest achievement is how intricately she captured the human condition, leaving- as the blurbs suggest- many celebrated authors enthralled by her talent.

This is a beautiful, poignant novel that will not just transport you to California during the summer of love, but it will place you very firmly in the shoes of Evie for an exhilarating and intense experience you never thought you would understand.

Aysha Raja

Aysha Raja

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