Audiobook Review: The Girls by Emma Cline (published by Random House)
The Girls is set in Northern California in the late sixties and this novel contrasts the dreamy, hazy summer days, the drug taking and relaxed hippy vibes of that time with the violent, senseless murders carried out by members of a cult. It is loosely based on the real events of the murders committed by Charles Manson and his cult in 1969.
The story is told through the eyes of Evie, a fourteen-year-old loner who upsets her one friend Connie by hitting on Connie’s older brother. Drifting through the summer months before heading to boarding school, Evie encounters a group of carefree girls at the park and becomes obsessed with one in particular, Suzanne. Suzanne introduces Evie to the out of town squat where the group live and the cult leader, Russell, a wannabe singer/songwriter who sleeps with and manipulates the young women who live with him. Evie becomes as enthralled with him as with Suzanne and starts to spend more and more time with them and at the squat, stealing, doing drugs and having sex.
We first meet Evie as a middle-aged woman staying at a friend’s second home and it is clear that the horrors of her past have shaped her irrevocably and she is now a dysfunctional adult. The story of that summer is told in retrospect, but this almost makes it more disturbing and uncomfortable as the narrative is tinged with regret and hindsight.
The book focuses attention on Evie’s girlhood psychological state and her background, putting what happened into perspective as I understood why she was drawn to this bunch of misfits and was so desperate for Suzanne’s attention. Evie was needy, abandoned by her father (who leaves her mother for a younger woman) and then by her mother (who finds a new boyfriend who Evie doesn’t like) and has no friends after losing Connie. Evie is still desperate for attention as a middle-aged woman, forming an odd relationship with the young girlfriend of the son of the homeowner, Sasha, and on the deserted beach at the end, she craves some drama. But ultimately, she is still invisible and it’s clear she has never quite recovered from the incident when she was fourteen.
I wasn’t sure about this novel at the start, but by the end I really enjoyed it. Evie’s narrative as a child is suffocating, intense and cloying and it is light relief when we go back to the middle-aged Evie but even that is awkward and slightly uncomfortable, for example how she wants to be friends with Sasha, wants to be perceived as cool and the pair’s odd antics in the bar.
There is just enough gruesome detail on the murders to be shocking but, for me, this novel is more about growing up, making poor choices and living with the consequences rather than about the murders themselves.
The audiobook narrator is brilliant, the languid voices of Suzanne and some of the other girls are spot on and it was a good pace. The language was overwritten and at some points as if the author had swallowed a thesaurus, but I think that listening to this made it easy to gloss over the flowery language. It probably would’ve got on my nerves if I was reading it as I’d have to reread sentences to get them straight in my mind.
If you are looking for a detailed description of the Manson murders, or after some thrilling action, then this isn’t the book for you. This is a thought provoking story about the complex, neurotic, clumsy transition into adulthood and the split-second decisions made when young which have a deep, permanent impact on our future selves.
My rating: 4/5
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