The Girls by Emma Cline, a Review

The Girls, by Emma Cline


I heard of Emma Cline’s bestselling debut novel, The Girls,  when I saw her interviewed on public television.

She looked too young to have anything profound to say about the eternal verities of human existence.

Looks can be deceiving.

The Girls is remarkable exploration of the psyche of a woman who, in her youth, threw in with a tribe of misfits that were part a commune under the sinister spell of a Mansonesque cult leader.

I haven’t read Helter Skelter or similar books, and The Girls is a novel not a work of nonfiction. Also in the interview of Cline I mentioned she specifically said her book was not a Manson book. What she said was that in all the works about such a figure with which she was familiar the focus was on the male cult leader. Her unique spin on it was to focus on the soul of a girl who was part of the group, what made her tick, what fascinated her about the leader and especially the other girls who followed him.

The result of her efforts is a novel hard to put down.  It is literary, but suspenseful, youthful, but mature, heartwarming in a bizarre way, but terrifying.  It reveals the razor thin veneer of civilized society, how the rules that guide most people do not possess the elasticity necessary to withstand new challenges, how easily good people can abandon those guidelines of conduct when visceral emotions rend their spirits.

The Girls is a coming of age book, where age fails to mollify the warring factions of the self. It is a novel of suspense in which we wonder to the very end what made Evie Boyd participate, or not participate, in an unspeakable crime. It is the tale of desperate friendships, betrayal, seduction, parental malfeasance, puppy love.

Cline’s use of first person, a fictional memoir, gives The Girls immediacy and draws the reader into the inner turmoil of the narrator.

Cline has produced a work that shakes the foundations of polite society, or perhaps, reveals those foundations for the fraud they are.

I highly recommend the book.

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