“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.”
Nothing beats sitting in the sun on holiday reading a great book, and even better if that book is also about summer. And yes, The Girls may be a taught, anxious story about a girl getting seduced into a cult rather than your typical read about sunglasses and mojitos, but I was more than happy to dive into the adolescent fever dream from debut novelist Emma Cline.
This book follows Evie Boyd, a directionless fourteen year old looking for somewhere to fit in. She’s trapped in California, 1969, during a seemingly endless summer holiday. Her parents are in the process of divorcing and her best friend is growing more distant, so Evie is thrilled when she is noticed by a group of ragged, glamourous girls. Lead by the dark-haired, mesmerizing Suzanne, the girls live in a rundown ranch, and are in the thrall of an older musician called Russell. Soon, Russell’s influence over them takes on a more sinister dimension, and it becomes clear that these girls will do anything to please him – the question is, will Evie?
The novel is narrated by an older Evie with a wistful, elegiac longing for her teenage years, vividly bringing to life the desperate hopes, the need to be accepted and the dry boredom of summer. Klein is less interested in how Russell manipulates the girls than the relationships between the girls themselves (in particular Evie and Suzanne). There’s an uneasy mix of sisterhood, petty rivalry and longing, perhaps even love. It’s hard to tell over the haze of pot, booze and smears of lipstick.
This is a tricky, knotty book, more about feelings and atmosphere than it is about the grisly details of the crimes committed. Like a Lana Del Rey song come to life, it’s all about image and glamour – what makes these girls so compelling rather than what they did. Despite this, The Girls is still not easy to stomach, especially as the pages soon fall away to a countdown. You know (because Evie has already told you) that these girls do terrible things, but like the main character you’re powerless to make them stop.
Header: Highway 101 Ventura, California (Wendell via Flickr)