I’ve gotta be honest, recently I’ve been in a real reading slump. I’ve been buying so many books and then just… giving up. Nothing has caught my attention. But that all changed with The Girls by Emma Cline. I first saw this book pop up in the Booktube community a couple of months ago and immediately added it to my TBR. I just love cults, but I usually only get my creepy obsessive fill from reading Wikipedia pages at 3AM. But now I have this baby, and its simultaneously everything I wanted and didn’t know I wanted from a book on cults.
One of my favourite books of the last few years has been Vivian Versus The Apocalypse by Katie Coyle, which was another look at a cult-like phenomenon as told by a teenage girl. But despite a similar premise, they were such totally different books. And not for the obvious reasons like The Girls being set in the 1960s and VvsTA being a contemporary novel, or like VvsTA being a much more YA-focused story. Because as much as I loved the Vivian Apple series, her involvement always felt too big to me. Which is something you definitely don’t get with Cline’s novel. The protagonist, Evie, doesn’t change the world. She doesn’t stop the horrendous crimes from happening. She doesn’t have any control. And that’s why it’s so great. Not everyone who stumbles onto a cult becomes a major player, most people are on the outskirts of the action. Evie gets sucked into the cult, but she’s never in control, she never fully knows what’s going on around her. And neither do we for the majority of the story. We get snippets from Adult Evie in the future and can guess about future events from what Evie witnesses at the compound, but she is never the one making these decisions. We experience the cult from her powerless position, just as we would if we were the ones in that situation.
Usually in books like this, I’d be demanding more murder. More action. More blood. But not in this case. What drew me in was the dynamics of the compound and the cult mentality that gets these people do do what they do, something I think Cline portrays very well. Besides, if I wanted to read about the gory details or the major players, I’d read the Charles Manson biography. You don’t really get to see things from the perspective of the outsiders, and even if this account is a fictional one, its got to be rooted in reality.
Despite my going on about realism, a word I’d definitely use to describe this book would be dreamy. So much emphasis is put on the summer this happens in. From Evie’s lazy days before discovering the girls and even her time at the camp. And maybe it’s just because I’m a British person currently dying in 35 degree Spanish heat, but I’m damn sure I felt that Californian summer and I’m damn sure a lot of it was from Cline’s amazing use of language. It really helped to empathise with Evie, and there weren’t many times I experienced a “girl, why are you doing that?” type of moment. Some people might find the writing style a little pretentious, but I didn’t get that vibe. To me, it’s everything that We Were Liars tried and failed to do. Evie is super bored, so to me it makes sense that her way of describing things is a little long winded. What else has she got to do with her time? And when she’s joined the girls, she’s obsessed, so of course she’s going to be taking in all these little details.
I think this a book that anyone can enjoy, weird statutory rape scenes aside (but after IT by Stephen King, I’m pretty much numb to those). You don’t need to be obsessed with cults, or history, or weird descriptive novels. It’s got something for everyone, which is why I think the hype around it is so big right now. Excellent writing, an interesting plot, and a great lazy vibe to it that makes it the perfect summer read. Go forth, devour, and be thankful you didn’t join a cult when you were fourteen.
I give it 5/5 mind-controlled psychopaths.