The Girls by Emma Cline

I was really ready to like this book but unfortunately I actually didn’t enjoy it that much. The writing was good but the plot kind of ruined the novel for me.

**I’m going to include some spoilers so if you haven’t read this book yet you might not want to read on.**

Set in 1969, the book is the story of a privileged teenage girl named Evie Boyd who is set adrift by her parents separation. To fill the gap left by the lack of attention she recieves from her parents she joins a commune of girls who live with a predictably manipulative older man called Russell. The girls are all infatuated with Russell and the book culminates with some of the girls murdering four innocent people because Russell wants revenge.

The plot sounds even more ridiculous when I write it down.

Evie is not actually involved with the murders but the crime becomes infamous and she is always connected to it. Part of the novel is narrated by Evie a couple of decades on, where (understandably) she still seems unable to get past the memories.

There are some wonderfully astute observations in the novel that show a brilliant understanding of what people do and why they do it.

Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. They noticed what we want noticed. And that’s what I did for Tamar – I responded to her symbols, to the style of her hair and clothes and the smell of her L’Air du Temps perfume, like this was data that mattered, signs that reflected something of her inner self.

But this only seems to make the bizarre plot even worse because it jars so horribly with such sensitive writing. For a start Evie is such a cliche: a poor, little rich girl who chooses to get involved becasuse she’s obsessed with the idea that her life as it is is not interesting enough. I know I’m being a bit harsh – there is more going on than this and just because she’s rich doesn’t mean her life is perfect, etc. Etc. – but essentially this is what her character boils down to. Then there’s Russell, the hippie who doesn’t wash or wear shoes, who spouts BS about beating the system and free love, yet really does what he does because it gives him the perfect opportunity to sexually abuse vulnerable young girls. And last but not least, there’s Suzanne, who Evie finds so mysterious because her hair is unkempt, she takes drugs and she isn’t bothered about casual nudity. There’s just no originality or nuance here.

However what irritated me the most were the murders. Russell, the pathetic human that he is, believes he is going to get a record deal and when this doesn’t happen he rages at Mitch, a contact he knows in the music industry. He convinces Suzanne and some of the other girls to go to Mitch’s house to ‘teach him a lesson’ but when they get there, Mitch isn’t home and instead they find the caretaker and his girlfriend and Mitch’s ex-girlfriend and their young son. Maybe I’m too naive but I refuse to believe that the girls would mercilessly kill all four of those people, including a child. Where is the explanation or motive for this?? For me, any sense of plausibility dissipated when I read this.

I know that it’s neither here nor there whether the story would ‘really’ happen – that’s not the point. What is important as a reader is a feeling of connection that allows you to suspend your disbelief and let yourself be consumed with the story and its emotions. And I just couldn’t get into this story and felt like I was just reading to get to the end.

As I said, this is especially disppointing because there were a lot of things to like about the book and I’m sure there are plenty of people who loved this novel and would ardently disagree with my assessment of it. However I’m afraid I personally couldn’t recommend it.

 

 

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