Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, is not for the fainthearted. It is gritty, brutally real to the point of discomfort at times, and, I could not put it down.
The author brings to life the undercurrents of life at the tail end of the swinging ’60s. Not the peace loving, bra burning, flower power essence of the ’60s that are depicted in the archives of world media. But the soul searching, enlightenment seeking, drug numbing reality that so many fell into then and continue to do so now.
The story revolves around 14-year-old Evie Boyd, a young girl growing up and finding her way in the sexual revolution. She is cast adrift by the divorce of her parents and her Mother’s self-absorption in her own desperate search for validation and acceptance, for love.
As Evie negotiates her sudden independence, sexual awareness and the dark hole growing in her soul, she encounters The Girls.
“These long haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them. Tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile.
They were messing with an uneasy threshold, prettiness and ugliness at the same time and a ripple of awareness followed them through the park.
Mothers glancing around for their children, moved by some feeling they couldn’t name. Women reaching for their boyfriend’s hands.”
There begins Evie’s journey and decent into a world far beyond what she had known. Lured by her mesmerising attraction to Suzanne, the seeming leader of the girls, she is embraced into the compound where all look to, love and revere a man called Russell.
Russell is love, a very warped version of it and he holds all the answers, at least in his mind and in the minds of all those who surround him. He is in tune with the cosmic forces if you will. He is actually a manipulator, a controller and wields his power through sex and drugs. He is the head of a cult.
There are eerie parallels between the cult within these pages and the infamous Charles Manson and the Manson girls. Throughout the book, there are allusions to impending violence, an echo of a real life tragedy told through young Evie’s eyes.
How are people drawn into the nets of destruction? The author weaves the story with such insight into the human condition. The yearnings to be noticed, to be loved, to be valued and the search for all these things in all the wrong places when disappointments enter the fray. These longings not restricted to the young alone as the author depicted so well.
This was an intimate journey into the life of a troubled young girl whose journey took her to places she could never have prepared for. Interestingly as Evie relives her choices in later years, she ponders would she have chosen differently had she had known where the path would lead. That is the chilling aspect to the writing which brings all these questions into play.
There is depth and hard-hitting truth within this story. It is not pretty, or window dressed to suit the palette of the general reader. It is, however, resounding in truth and realism of what life can be as a result of circumstance, chance and longing. Of people positioned to take advantage of the hurt and confusion of vulnerable souls.
This book is a work of literary art.
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