'The Girls' by Emma Cline

Sunday 3 June 2018

Typewriter Teeth The Girls Emma Cline Book Review , image of the novel surrounded by flowers

In her first novel Emma Cline’s ‘The Girls’ follows Evie Boyd reluctantly reflecting on her teenage years, captivated and taking refuge with a group that alludes to the Manson Family. But rather than Russell (hinting towards Charles Manson) becoming her obsession it is with the girls of the group, and in particular a character called Suzanne (resembling Susan Atkins) who she falls for.  

Evie is the daughter of an unfaithful father and a mother who replaces him with a line of inadequate men, as they live off her grandmothers money. As a discontented and neglected fourteen year old, desperate for excitement she falls in awe of the girls after watching them steal food, pushing herself into opportunities to meet them. As she settles into their ways Evie overlooks a number of unusual and aggressive behaviours, as if she is trying to find herself by losing herself in this strange way of life, drifting alongside them rather than diving in head first. 

Typewriter Teeth The Girls Emma Cline Book Review  image of book with a cup of tea

Evie’s adolescence accelerates when she decides to stay on their ranch, growing up slowly then all at once. Where she lacks the confidence and belief in herself she seeks it out in Russell to gain Suzanne’s affections. Evie’s loneliness drives her to trade her body for emotional support and empowerment and accepting Russell’s wildly impossible ideals.

‘The Girls’ is not attempting to work history but use it as a backdrop. Our prior knowledge means that an intensity is created by Cline by embracing an assumed understanding and fear by alluding to Manson. Russell’s character fills the edges of the novel, but the idea of him and his actions are more intrusive. Emma Cline is drawing us into what neglect can lead people to. His manipulation means those who follow and love him will carry out his ideas and work for him, the way a cult becomes more of a person than they ever were before. But Cline’s restraint on this setting creates the perfect frame for what a poisonous situation can cause and brings the focus back to Evie, the girls and how close she was to danger. 

We the reader fall in line with the trance like warmth that falls over ‘The Girls’ and although the Manson murder backdrop is necessary, it is the terror of girlhood and exploration of adolescence that forms the heart of this novel. Cline articulates perfectly the longing in their teenage eyes to understand themselves and the everyday overlooked violence committed through girlhood in neglect, exploitation, emotional manipulation and sexual assault. 

Typewriter Teeth The Girls Emma Cline Book Review  image of the spine of book

Debut novels like this are rare and Cline has created an incredible, subtle and thought provoking book. Get The Girls here. 

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