‘The Girls’, Emma Cline

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I heard that this novel was going to be the book of the summer, and had seen it hyped everywhere from Instagram, Twitter and newspaper culture pages.

Having read and enjoyed an interview with author Emma Cline, I downloaded this on Kindle for my holidays.

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‘The Girls’ is the story of 14-year-old Californian Evie Boyd and the summer of 1969, when she was sucked into a cult that would achieve worldwide notoriety.

A provocative and painful coming-of-age tale that is inspired by the infamous Manson cult, author Emma Cline delves into the fascinating process of cultdom but also the objectification of women both today and in 1960s America.

Protagonist Evie appears to us first as a lonely and unhappy teenager who is neglected by her recently divorced parents and estranged from any friends, desperate to find a place where she is wanted and accepted.

Told in the form of seamless flashbacks, lonely wandering adult Evie describes how she was first sucked into the embrace of magus Russell Hadrick’s cult by what was first a crush which developed into a full-blown obsession with member Suzanne.

Inspired by the notorious Susan Atkins or ‘Sexy Sadie’, Evie is eager to spend time with and please the charismatic Suzanne, who she follows to a ranch that is the site of Russell’s commune in Sonoma County, near Evie’s home.

Like all women in the cult, Suzanne is obsessed with Russell, a narcissistic wannabe musician who is obsessed with social theories, not unlike Charles Manson.

Set against the backdrop of the summer of free love in the 1969, Evie is taken in by the belief that love can come from any direction but is most fixated on the affection offered by the female-dominated cult. “Girls are the only ones who can give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved,” writes Cline.

Evie is prompted to tell her story when she meets Julian, son of an old friend, and his girlfriend Sasha, who seem to remind her of the summer she spent in the thrall of the fascinating cult. As if in a trance, she tells the story of a girl who is a drifter, the classic teenage protagonist who has to be told who she is and how she feels by those around her.

Ultimately missing out on the big finale that is well known by anyone who has ever heard of the Manson cult, Evie is destined to remain an outsider, no matter how much she is willing to give up to fit in to what was once a dream existence that still haunts her in adulthood.

Against the backdrop of a well-known story that is still captivating for so many, Cline captures the mood of the sixties that turned sour after that summer, while focusing on how women will do anything to be admired and accepted in female friendship and the wider world.

Readers will be sucked in by the compelling storyline as much as the vivid and descriptive language which, although slightly overwritten in parts, builds the mood in the novel to reflect the tension of that fabled summer.

The Girls is published by Random House.

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