Words by Síomha Connolly
July 19th, 2016
If The Girl on The Train was 2015’s must-read, then Emma Cline’s The Girls has undoubtedly taken its place this summer. It’s one of those books that you will want to read in one sitting, unable to pause as it is just so captivating. A page turner from the start, The Girls deserves every bit of hype that it has been receiving.
The story is set in the present day with flashbacks making up a sizeable portion of the book. Narrated from the protagonist’s middle-aged perspective, The Girls explores the life of Evie Boyd, a teenager in the dark twilight of the 1960s. A tale of teenage angst, of fitting in, Cline’s novel is uneasily relatable at many points, while it is almost impossible to imagine at others. The main series of events are based around the Californian summer of 1969 where Evie first finds herself on the periphery of, and later deeply involved in, a cult-like commune on a ranch led by Russell, a character said to be based on the infamous Charles Manson.
Similarly to Evie, a group of girls who collectively have a deep need to be loved, valued, and noticed, find all of this (in roundabout ways) in the commune. This is where Evie’s incessant need to be noticed is suddenly fulfilled when she meets Suzanne, who instantly becomes the subject of her mind’s fixation; “Something seemed to pass between us, a subtle rearranging of air. The frank, unapologetic way she held my gaze.” For Evie, the Ranch becomes a refuge from regular teen stresses; in her case a best friend break-up coupled with the breakdown of her parents’ marriage. The Ranch is where Evie can be seen, can receive the attention that she longs for, and allows her to break away from suburban ennui.
Although the men in this novel are in ways the backbone of the plot, it is ultimately the women (or Girls) and their own relationships that propel the story. The men appear weak, unattractive and seedy and always on the periphery, while the women are realistic, relatable and although they are under the control of the men, their true characters are the only ones that shine through. Cline succeeds superbly in making a space for these female relationships that are more significant than just a friendship. They are vital for our understanding of the world which Cline captures perfectly. This is evident from the very first line; “I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.” Attraction beckons and this newfound relationship with Suzanne and the Girls ultimately enlivens Evie, while at the same time putting her in more danger than she has ever known. “The familiarity of the day was disturbed by the path the girls cut across the world. Sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water.”
While male dependence is noticeable, particularly on some of the weaker female characters; “He took his arm away from the girl and she looked drained by his absence”, the women are almost always conscious of their need to be noticed and approved of; “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.” This desire to be both accepted and admired is apparently all that the girls need and with this Cline effortlessly creates a searing depiction of the lives of young women that transcends time.
The Girls creates a space for girls and women of every age to explore the tempestuous relations of female friendship. This book is spell-binding and is certainly not to be missed.
The Girls is available for purchase now from all good bookstores and at the link below.
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