Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline


Emma Cline’s debut novel is one powerful first shot.  Cline’s story is reminiscent of the murders committed by the Manson ‘family’ where Manson encouraged a group of young women to kill a woman, her unborn child and her friends.  As books on cults go: this has it all.  Sex, drugs, subtle manipulation and at the end of it all…murder. This is not a book for the faint hearted.

Cline’s novel flits back and forth from 1969 to present day.  In 1969, our protagonist is a fourteen year old girl – Evie – who for all intents and purposes is like any other teenager.  Evie spends her summer engrossed by the teenage magazines which prescribe daily rituals that promise smoother skin and a leaner body and being madly in lust with her best friend’s older brother (we have all been there).  These magazines, she later reflects, “taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you-the boys had spent that time becoming themselves“.

Her summer takes an unexpected turn when she falls out with said best friend.  Her parents seem wrapped up in their own lives. Long hot summer afternoons stretch out until she meets Suzanne and is introduced to Russell and the ‘gang’ who live in a drug fuelled existence surviving on little sustenance.  Yet they are free.  They are happy.  A world away from what Evie is used to being constantly concerned with how to look and how to act.  The reader can emphasise with Evie’s attraction with such a group of people.

That is until something changes.  The electricity within the ‘Ranch’ where they all inhabit is altered.  This spirals out of control until the gruesome murders.  The reasons for this shift seemed slightly far-fetched to me (I won’t spoil the story too much!) and contradictory to Russell’s vision of shedding all identity and materialism.

Cline’s use of Evie retelling the story from present day didn’t add anything in my opinion.  This side story where Evie interacts with a young couple is clearly meant to invoke parallel’s between their lives and her life back in 1969 however, I felt that this was underdeveloped and stretched to say the least. In my opinion it would have been far better to have not had this story and allowed the story to progress without the benefit of hindsight.

The author’s real skill in this novel was how she delicately describes Evie’s experience, anxiety and confusion over sex, lust and love.  There is an incredible amount of sex within this novel however, whilst it is never seedy it is awkward.  The reader will always have at the back of their mind that Evie is barely 14.  The only thing that let’s Cline down is her incessant need to have a metaphor for every significant moment in the story. It almost didn’t allow the reader to have an objective view of the moment.

Cline’s ability to invoke the memories of early teenage years and long summer filled days is to be congratulated.  I particularly enjoyed the way that Evie – in hindsight – would look back on her life as a teenager and question the role she considered girls to have. Below is my favourite example of this:

That was part of being a girl – you were resigned to whatever feedback you ‘d get.  If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch.  The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into.  Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.

Have any of you read it?  What did you think?

Recommended for: those who enjoy a slow build of tension in a novel

Rating: 3.5/5

Favourite quote: Why couldn’t relationships be reciprocal, both people steadily accruing interest at the same rate.

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

  1. Great review! I read The Girls and didn’t love it for a couple of reasons. I got tired of Evie’s overwhelming neediness and I thought the story lacked some originality in following the story of the Manson murders so closely. I agree with you that the angle of Evie in the present wasn’t fully developed. For me, The Girls got more hype than it deserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting take on it. Yes, she was a bit needy. For me I didn’t enjoy the constant reflection. There were also quite a lot of metaphors in the book which sort of detracted from the significance of what was being said – I forgot to add that in the review! Thanks for the comment: it’s apprevied!


    1. Yea, it’s cause Cline tells you what’s going to happen early on. I maintain that if she ditched the present day story it would have been a much better story!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you – it was a bit overhyped for me, and didn’t think the present day story was very necessary!
    That said I definitely liked Cline’s writing and will probably read more from her in future 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never heard of this book but your review has made me put this in my amazon cart ready for pay-day! I love books like this but that may be due to my obsession with researching cults and serial killers/mass murderers/ killers.

    You write reviews very honestly which I really enjoy btw! Going to pick this up and maybe review it myself haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This has to be the nicest comment EVER!! Thanks for this. Yep this book is wild but I enjoyed it! I always worry I’m too honest but then again what’s the point in sugar coating eh?! Would love to read your review. Let me know when you’re finished and tag me / send me the link and I’ll get a cuppa ready 🙂


  4. Pingback: January Wrap Up

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