The Girls, by Emma Cline
If you haunt bookstores you sure have seen this book, Emma Cline‘s debut novel The Girls showing beautifully on the most visible shelves. It could be the “magnetic” cover -with that combination of red and blue that warps your mind (you genius cover designer!)- or probably just the fact that everyone is talking about it. Named the Summer’s hottest novel by WMagazine and PublisherWeekly, No. 3 on The New York Times bestseller list, The Girls is on everyone’s lips.
Not to mention that Cline’s editorial debut fetched a $2 million advance and immediately got the attention of Scott Rudin -film producer known for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Zoolander (2001) and The Truman Show (1998), to name a few- who bought film rights just before the sale.
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon.
Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.
As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
The story -based loosely on the Manson murders– is told from one acolyte’s point of view, but is definitely not what you would expect from a book “inspired” by what was probably the most famous counterculture cult that eventually ended with the infamous Labianca-Tate killing spree in August of 1969. Maybe it’s just me, but I was expecting a bit more than some subtle psychological insight and a profound perceptiveness of a 14-years-old’s mind. Nonetheless, beside some stylistic annoying choices -as it the “present chapters”- that kinda ruined the mojo, I have to admit that Emma Cline owns the literary finesse of building suspense and keeping the reader’s eyes glued to the pages.
Reviews of The Girls have been enthusiastically positive except for a few high-profile demurrals -most notably (and my personal favourite) by Dwight Garner in the New York Times– but I am caught in the middle; I can’t say this book was afwul, nor I can say it was my best summer read, but somehow I devoured it in 2 hours straight.