I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Girls both from NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an honest review.
I feel I should fully disclose that I have a slight obsession with cults and communes. This is an all around fascination with both fictional and factual accounts of life within these groups. There is something I find intriguing with the admiration of charismatic leaders and the sense of desperately wanting to belong and find identity.
The above is partially why, The Girls by Emma Cline is thus far my favorite book of the year. Yes, we are only in June and something could beat it, but The Girls did way more for me than just the thrill of the Manson Family-eqsue subject matter. Cline’s words are beautiful. I love an author that can paint a scene, but with The Girls, I could taste the soggy end of a joint, feel the sticky heat, and smell molding wood of the house.
What I loved about The Girls is that the story doesn’t so much focus on the charismatic leader, Russell, but rather is from the point of view of a woman, Evie. Evie spent much of the summer of 1969 at age fourteen on the ranch. We learn her story as she looks back to that time and her admiration for the girls in the group, and one girl in particular, Suzanne. Evie struggles through her parents’ divorce and the thought of the boarding school which waits for her once summer ends. All the while, she’s figuring out how to live in her changing body and use her newfound sexuality.
It was interesting to see the pieces of the Manson Family that Cline peppered throughout the novel. We see the Charles Manson character in cult-leader, Russell. Mitch played a hybrid of musician Brian Wilson and producer Terry Melcher. Suzanne seemed to be Susan Atkins doppelganger even with a nod to her name. If you are at all interested in learning more about the time of the Manson Family, I highly suggest listening to the Charles Manson’s Hollywood series of the podcast, You Must Remember This.
The Girls is an addition to the recent wave of debut novels that knock you off your feet. I cannot wait to see what Emma Cline comes out with next. She’s already been added to my auto-buy list. Even though I had received a copy of The Girls via NetGalley for review, I stood in line to get a signed copy at the Penguin Random House booth at BEA. That was solidly one of the best decisions I made at BEA! Pre-order or put The Girls on your hold list now for its June 14th release date.
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Oh, this is up next for me (well, this month at least) and your description now has me so much more excited about it. I feel exactly the same way about cults (so fascinated by them), and I had no idea that the Girls touches on this. Also, on a similar theme, I loved Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot (my favorite book of the year so far, hehe, b/c it’s about cults) 🙂 Wonderful review!
I also loved Mr. Splitfoot! If you like YA Starbird Murphy and the World Outside was great as well.
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Great review. I agree that Cline’s masterstroke was having the focus on Suzanne rather than Russell. It added to the pull of the cult.
Funny that you mention that you are drawn to books about communes and cults because I’m the opposite. I was reading an entire prize shortlist this year (Stella Prize) and there were two books on the list of six set in communes/ cults and I was not happy about it – I was thinking “Really? I’m over this literary trend already!”. My thoughts are coloured by the fact that I went to school (in the 1980s) with a girl who had been rescued (and de-programmed) from an extreme Australian cult – her experiences were frightening and horrific and all the fiction I have read set in cults seems romanticised and far from reality. That’s aid, I know very little about Charles Manson, so have no idea whether Russell and his girls were a reasonable recreation.
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