Review by

The Girls

When the writing gets in the way of the story

First we had Gone Girl, then The Girl on the Train, The Girl in the Red Coat and this year, it’s simply The Girls…25-year old Emma Cline’s soon to be published (16th June) debut comes steeped in expectations, a $2 million dollar advance and just in time for the summer… rest assured, it won’t be the last time you hear about this book! The story of The Girls is inspired by 1960s cult leader and one of America’s most notorious criminals, Charles Manson, whose followers went on a murder spree around California. The setting is interesting enough, the drama and gore guaranteed, but what about the delivery?

Middle-aged, solitary Evie lives a rootless kind of life doing the odd job here and there. As a house sitter for a friend she meets a drifting young couple who reminds her of her own reckless youth and close brush with a Californian cult in the 1960s.

Evie looks back at her childhood growing up as a single child in a financially secure but deeply unhappy family. With a philandering father and a New Age obsessed mother, fourteen year old emotionally neglected Evie is easy prey for the charismatic cult leader Russell and his entourage of young, cool girls.

Cline knows how to tell a story and is good at creating atmosphere. Her dialogue works for the most part. I recognised myself in Evie and her friend Connie’s clumsy teenage behaviour around Connie’s older brother. Her description of the derelict house where the cult is based sent shivers down my spine, particularly the neglected seemingly parentless children wandering around, the result of Russell’s sexual abuse of cult members. His seduction of Evie is credible and deeply disturbing.

What really bugged me about this book, and I’m puzzled that Cline’s editor didn’t step in here, is her writing style. I suspect it came out of a desire to seem ‘literary’, but sadly, the result is just irritating and distracting. Cline has decided to drop connectives and use adjectives and nouns as verbs, a move that creates a staccato, repetitive reading experience, especially as it is used nearly ALL THE TIME!

The three of us worked together to get the chain back on. The smell of their sweat as we propped the bike on its stand.

or

I didn’t know what time it was. The windows black, the squeeze of wind through the eaves.

or

The river was already clotted with litter, the slow drift of popcorn bags and beer cans and paper fans.

 

It gets to the point where you wait for it at the end of every sentence, not ideal for the flow of the story.

I wasn’t exactly swept way by some of Cline’s imagery either: ‘He was eighteen, Connie’s older brother, and his forearms were the color of toast’, ‘His breaths like the beads of a rosary, each in and out a comfort’, ‘I ate in the blunt way I had as a child – a glut of spaghetti, mossed with cheese. The nothing jump of soda in my throat.’

My mind goes blank…(and wanders to the beautifully written The Sympathizer instead. Go there for some expertly conceived imagery!)

If you can get past the writing, The Girls is not a bad book. I couldn’t….

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a review copy of The Girls.

The Girls by Emma Cline is published by Chatto & Windus, 368 pages. Release date 16 June 2016.

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