Book Review - The Girls by Emma Cline


BOOK: The Girls by Emma Cline


SYNOPSIS (goodreads): Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.


I’m a little uncertain how I feel about this book.

On the one hand, it’s a brilliant book. Emma Cline’s writing style is sparse and fragmented, but also sharp and eloquent in a way that I haven’t found many writers’ writing to be. She is both prosaic and poetic at the same time – perhaps more prosaic, but surprisingly, I liked that. It is not the best writing I have ever read, but it is certainly intermittently brilliant with remarkable phrases on every other page. Some of the metaphors that Cline uses are familiar – at one point we all must have thought of things that way, only we couldn’t articulate it. But Cline does. So, the writing is often excellent, if not continuously.

I understand that the book is loosely based on the Manson clan, and I’ve read about it, but this was no simple adaptation of it. Cline focuses on building a certain mood, fostering certain impressions, and presenting minute details that help build the atmosphere. It is not just about facts. The plot doesn’t seem to be the driving element of the book. It just happens to be the one that Evie Boyd got involved in.

It is an apt representation of the young female psyche. The insecurities of adolescence, the awkwardness of the teenage years, and especially the stage of rebellion. While portraying all men as obscene isn’t something I can make myself like, the gendered lens through which Evie looks at her life – or rather, through which we look at her life, since she is not always very perceptive of it – is certainly something. But the chapters focusing on the future definitely make up for that. Evie eventually does realize what the driving force in her life had been: “I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

And that’s the thing. The book is so much more about the girls, really, than what they were involved in. There is a disconnect between the gory aspect of the story and the portrayal of the girls through it. That’s what it really is about. And that definitely raises the question: what is the point of the particular plot of the book? There doesn’t seem to be any relation whatsoever between the setting Cline has chosen for the book and the things that she is trying to say. It is a beautiful book, but this is an off-putting question.

Published by Mahima Kapoor


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