I don’t even know where to start writing about The Girls by Emma Cline, it illicit such visceral reactions, it was so engrossing.
Set in a Manson like cult in 1969, it tracks a Sharon Tate style murder from ‘innocent beginnings’ to deadly ends. Murder, however, is a mere backdrop to a story of a desperate desire to belong in a world split in two, changing without you. An outsider, willing acceptance.
“Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.” GoodReads.
Evie Boyd is the embodiment of middle class malaise. She doesn’t fit in, no one really notices her. She is fourteen, a teenager who doesn’t fit into the conservative rule-ridden world which she resides. The swinging 60s have passed her and her family by, trailing behind the teenage movement that came before her in the 50s.
Escape comes in the form of Suzanne, who she happens upon in a park one early summers afternoon, the summer before boarding school begins. She quickly becomes obsessed with Suzanne, who enlists her into the commune the charismatic Russell runs. Russell is Mason-esque, leading his flock of predominantly women across the country and on the cusp of a record deal. Russell is to Suzanne is what Suzanne is to Evie, a wondrous and beautiful saviour. Evie both wants and wants to be Suzanne, someone sees who she is not what her family wants her to be.
Evie’s tale flicks between the present and 1969. In the present she is staying in a friend’s guesthouse, their son and his girlfriend arrive unexpectedly. Julian and Sasha remind Evie of Russell and herself. In Sasha she sees all her old vulnerability, and willingness to please the person she loves even if they do not show equal respect and attention.
This reflection of past obsession highlights exactly what Evie would have done for Suzanne, just to be near her. After the Tate murders what was shocking was how these women could have committed the crimes, and The Girls really makes you think what people will do when they are so engrossed in another human, so blinded by their love.
What felt most distressing, in the flight between past and present, was that since Suzanne Evie seemed not to have found anyone or anywhere that would become home. That nowhere will ever feel as right as that cult and Suzanne.