The Girls by Emma Cline Review

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Publication: June 14th 2016
Publisher:  Random House
Pages:  355 pages
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Adult, Contemporary
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤

I hate it when books you look forward too aren’t as great as you’d hoped.

I was originally meant to read this book in August, but since I was on holidays and away from the Bookmobile, The Girls travelled to the next person in line as my hold expired, and I was forced to move to the back of the line again.

I waited anxiously for this book. After all, The Girls was one of this summer’s “It” books. What’s not to love about a book about a fourteen-year-old girl who joins a Mason-like cult in the 1960’s all the while trying to find herself at the same time? I finally got the book in December, so excited to read it, and ended up disappointed. For all my hopes for this book, The Girls was just meh.

Unfortunately, we don’t really get to see the blood, gore, and freakiness of Cline’s Mason-inspired cult in the novel. All we get is fourteen-year-old Evie hanging out at the cult’s ranch while she disobeys her mother, who has started dating again after her parents messy divorce.

Evie joins the cult after seeing three girls in the park one afternoon, one of whom is the infamous Suzanne (who Evie is totally crushing on but never actually acknowledges she is crushing on, or that Evie is heavily hinted at liking women but is never shown or talking about why this is in her older narrative voice) who Evie becomes enamored by and ends up joining the cult in order to be closer to her.

The novel is framed as middle-aged Evie remembering her fourteen-year-old escapades of “That Time I Joined a Cult”. While this narrative technique works at some points in the novel, I feel that hearing Evie’s fourteen-year-old voice and thoughts would have been more interesting, though the older woman retelling narrative does bring about some good points at the end of the novel. From the framing technique (as well as Evie stating that no one ever realized she was in the cult which is VERY suspicious) I was totally expecting a 360° where it’s revealed that Evie actually wasn’t in the cult but is so obsessed with them that she convinces herself and others that she was, but sadly even that ending was too much to ask for.

The writing style is also strange and often becomes tedious while also bordering on pretentious. In the very beginning of the novel Cline describes a meal of spaghetti as a “glut” of spaghetti with a “moss of cheese” covering it. While I didn’t completely hate that description, it was completely odd and didn’t fit with the narrative. But this type of description continues on every page, one line after another. I got so tired reading this book because of the weird descriptions, but had to keep at it because of it’s due date (and I was not going to put it on hold again).

There are certain points littered throughout where Cline gives glimpses into some feminist thought at the way women are treated and viewed in society, back in the 1969 narrative to the present day, and that’s what bumped this book up to a 3 star rating. There’s an amazing paragraph near the end where Evie talks about how she knows hate from her experiences of sexual assault and how she has been treated by men that I adored and I wished Cline had kept that tone throughout the book. I wanted to read about a girl who was angry, a girl who was violent, someone complicated. And in a story that was inspired by the Manson Family Murders, I expected that, but I didn’t get it.

While the book attempts to be a feminist read, it gets incredibly misandristic at times. Their are no good men in this book, and while I understand that Cline was attempting to make an argument about how women are often seen by men in society, how can we change this perspective by showing men as only viewing women in that way? I’m not saying Cline should have had more male characters who are feminists or men who weren’t completely bad, and I don’t know how to fix it, but I don’t think Cline should show every man as being disgusting and abusive, especially in a novel where their are violent women whose actions are not held as bad as the men around them.

Also, can we stop using the word girls to talk about women? I get that grown-up Evie is looking back at her fourteen-year-old self, and I can also forgive The Girls for falling victim to the title trope because at least Cline attempts to make a point about how women are often treated by men, but in general this calling women girls in the title of books needs to stop!

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