The Girls by Emma Cline is a novel I’ve been eager to read ever since hearing about it a year ago. Fictional and real-life cults are a guilty pleasure of mine, and learning about what makes these cults tick and how people find themselves sucked into them is something that fascinates me. This one is loosely based on the Manson family, so I couldn’t not read it.
The novel shares two different stages of protagonist’s life. First when Evie is a middle-aged woman who is reflecting back on the short (yet conflicting) time she was involved with a cult. The book also shows these younger years where she was in a vulnerable stage of her youth and met Suzanne and the other girls. Due to the lack of the love, she was receiving at home, and all the love Russell, the cult leader, promised her, this obscure life on a ranch appealed to Evie. When things fall apart, Evie begins to see the cult fall apart in the most tragic way possible.
At first, I was thoroughly enjoying this book. It’s a page turner and the plot of Evie’s youth is enthralling. However, there was still something that bothered me. Thinking long and hard about it, it was the portrayal of the cult that felt off. It felt clichéd and too obvious. I recently read Gather the Daughters, which is a more recent book about a fictional cult, and the construction of that cult was distinct and memorable. Cline’s cult didn’t show enough depth and though I know it’s fiction, it's vibe was unauthentic.
Despite this, Cline’s construction of Evie was great. Reading about her home-life, her vulnerabilities and insecurities, and the lack of love surrounding her helped me get a sense of her character. The author painted a portrait of Evie that showcased everything we needed to know about her. Her character was raw, and it was difficult to watch her fall apart and be sucked into the cult. It was a realistic representation of the type of personality traits that appeals most to cults.
The Girls was a gripping read, and perfect for a rainy day or day at the beach. Though it certainly wasn't memorable or distinct, and I can't see myself reaching for it again anytime soon.
Release date: June 14th 2016 by Vintage/Penguin Random House