The Girls by Emma Cline
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
My Rating: 3.5/5
Synopsis: Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.
And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
This book had so much hype surrounding it. It was supposed to be haunting, beautiful, edgy, so I went into this book with high expectations. However, these weren’t really met.
The first sign that something was amiss for me was the prose style. I began the first chapter and was just utterly confused. What was happening? What time period was I in? The flowery language just overwhelmed me. I wanted to be hooked from the beginning, but instead I was just baffled and lost.
Now, I’m not adverse to so-called ‘purple prose’. If it’s done well, I really enjoy it, and I think it enhances the atmosphere of the novel. Virginia Woolf is my favourite author and is a perfect example of flowery, descriptive prose done right. You still know what’s going on, but the prose style enhances the experience. Emma Cline does write some beautiful passages, but I think she has a while to go yet before she’s a master of it like Woolf. There are some metaphors etc that really worked and others that totally bombed. However, it is her first novel, so of course there’s room for improvement.
Yet, that being said, it wasn’t just Cline’s writing that dampened my opinion of such a hyped book. In truth, I found the protagonist Evie Boyd a bit boring. Characters in novels are supposed to seem real, but also be a little larger than life so that they appeal to us, so that we like them. However, Evie was just average. Of course, that was the whole point; an average girl caught up in some kind of sect. (Not a cult, by the way, which is one thing the media always gets wrong. Cults are essentially ‘fandoms’; fans of a TV show or yoga or aromatherapy. Sects are groups like The Manson Family – which this book is based upon- Heaven’s Gate, People’s Temple etc etc). But anyway, enough of what I learnt in Sociology, back to Evie; she was too average. It sounds like something I shouldn’t be complaining about, but I couldn’t connect with Evie. After finishing the novel, I have no clue what her hobbies are, how she’d feel about this or that.
And the same goes for the other characters. Suzanne, the object of Evie’s affection, could perhaps be considered the central character of the book. Whilst I felt Suzanne had more depth than Evie, she still felt somewhat distant from me. Russell, the sect’s leader, also never felt like a threat; just a smarmy middle-aged man haunting the peripheries. I never understood why the girls worshiped him and never saw any charisma.
If you follow my blog, you’ll notice I haven’t posted a review in a while; it’s because I struggled to get through this book. There were passages that seemed stagnant, inconsequential to the plot, that didn’t drive the story forward in any way. One aspect of the book I did enjoy was Evie and Suzanne’s turbulent friendship, and I think that’s something Cline crafted excellently. But still, I’m a little saddened that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped, yet it still does show promise for Emma Cline. She clearly has the talent, I just think it needs to be honed.
Have you read The Girls? What did you think? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!