(Author: Emma Cline) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)
I received this book from Netgalley and I had a certain curiosity, sure, but I tried not having too high expectations. The result was that I actually quite enjoyed it. There were negative sides to it, but overall, it was a good read.
In terms of writing, there was a certain poetic masturbation in the lines of the novel. I read some other reviewers downright abandoning The Girls because of it. I can’t say that it bothered me to such an extent, but it could have been dealt with better. Sometimes the descriptions include analogies too far fetched to be good and sometimes – too vague to make sense.
On the other hand, while the writing has its ups and downs, it is nonetheless truthful and engaging. The bit that I enjoyed the most by far – and the one that I think actually makes the book special – is not the events themselves, the cult, the girls and all that. The entire time I thought that the special thing about The Girls is the beautiful yet tragic description of the mind and desires of teenage girls and the lengths they would go to to get attention and affection. Having been a teenager, I do remember the need to get attention, to be liked or admired, enough so that you would act badly, just to get those things. Like I would be much more rude than I am just so that somebody thinks I’m tough. And in the case of Evie, to be so desperate for attention that even years later you would wonder whether you would kill in order to be liked by a person you admired. If not a good person, Evie is a very honest narrator. She describes her feelings, desires and the reasons behind her actions in an almost painfully truthful way and with the realization that she was wrong. Even older, she would put some of the realities of being a woman into very clear and somewhat saddening phrases.
Later I would see this: how impersonal and grasping our love was, pinging around the universe, hoping a host to give form to our wishes.
That same aspect of Evie’s narrative can be used to describe how interesting and accurate her description is of a person such as Russell. While Russell as an individual is not really shown directly, he is described through his manipulations and lies. It makes this book a very clear way of unmasking such a cult leader. As in, it is hard to believe for some people that there are figures so powerful that they would not force their victims to do anything, but instead the victims would want to please such a manipulator. The Girls shows why and how exactly his tricks worked, because Evie describes what flaws in her and the others he used to make them dependent and hung up on him. She shows that he was not charismatic, and yet he had a sway based on her own insecurities and that is much more interesting to read about than if he was just shown as a power figure and/or a tyrant.
To the matter of the cult, while that was the actual story going on, all the other elements added to it made it just a background noise, disturbing, but secondary to the metaphysical aspect. But taking the popularity of cults in the 60’s and 70’s, it was still interesting to receive a look at the form, structure and idea of cults at those times. And what I though was important, the role of drugs, which I think many people just choose to ignore when they talk of such things, instead focusing on brainwashing and insanity, well, guess what, half the time or more they were unaware of the planet they were on. Not too hard to see that that had a huge impact on people like the Manson family or the People’s Temple.