Delving into the rich prose and vivid atmosphere of Emma Cline's The Girls, it was quickly apparent this would be one of the best books of the summer, maybe the year. Since it tells the story of a Manson-esque cult in the 1960s, and I am not one for murders or cults, I went into this one a little unsure. But the reviews were so good and the book was everywhere, so I had to give it a try and I'm so glad I did. The story is told through flashbacks, and while Evie's present day life isn't quite fully fleshed out, the dips in and out of the past provide a grounding structure for the more erratic events of her early adolescence. More than once, you are struck by how young this character is, and how different a time it was. While a 14-year-old hitchhiking and hopping in a strange van seems unthinkable today (at least for a sheltered suburbanite like myself) Cline does an excellent job of rationalizing it and other loathsome life choices in Evie's mind, without dismissing the reader's assumed objections. The disturbing lifestyle of the cult is at once presented as normal and fantastical in Evie's eyes. After all, she doesn't know any better, perhaps this is how all hip, enlightened people live. Yes it dazzles her at every turn, even as the same details that charm Evie, nauseate the more knowing reader. It is almost as if Cline manages to do the atmospheric work of a movie soundtrack without the foreboding, stabby music all but screaming "no, no, fun out the front door, not up the stairs!"
In recommending this to a customer, I had some difficulty pinpointing the genre. Definitely coming of age, a bit of a mystery, a bit of a thriller, but we certainly wouldn't shelve it in either of those sections. I decided on literary thriller. And I really did thrill to the pitch perfect descriptions of adolescent insecurity, and how poignantly a young girl can viscerally keen for acceptance. It makes the character relatable even when you're thinking "how could anyone possibly go along with that." Like adult Evie wonders how far things could have gone were the circumstances of the past slightly altered, I wondered if I would really have been any smarter as a naive, underloved 14-year-old.
A truly transporting story. You'll feel the hot sticky summer nights even if you don't get to this one until the winter.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop