I sat down with it as soon as it arrived and from the first line I found it quite enchanting. The story is of Evie Boyd who at 14 is the daughter of a broken home with her parents marriage freshly ended. Struggling, as you tend to at that age, with friendships, sexual awakening and general confusion she is pretty ripe for the taking, vulnerable and longing for love and adventure. The introduction to the book is her first sighting of a group of girls who, she learns later, live in a cult.
With the start of the summer holidays she finds herself suddenly and unexpectedly distanced from her one and only friend, Connie. Her mum has started dating highly inappropriate men and her time is taken up by them, she is entirely distracted and makes assumptions about what her daughter is doing with her days.
And so Evie starts visiting the commune. She becomes friendly with one of the girls, Suzanne, and is introduced to the leader, Russell, who begins to assimilate her into the group. She starts stealing money and has her first sexual experience with the Russell .
The story follows her days with them as well as a number of meetings with the older version of her where we slowly learn how these few summer days affected her for life.
The story is based on the Manson family cult. The Manson family inhabited a 1960’s LA and ended up becoming a notorious part of the history of that glamorous city. They literally slayed Sharon Tate, the wife of the film director Roman Polanski, whilst she was heavily pregnant. They also murdered three friends staying in Sharon Tate’s house that night and the next night went on to murder two more people. The police investigation was protracted and the fear in the city was palpable. The girls who formed the back bone of the commune were all young, damaged and vulnerable, desperate for love and attention. Charlie Manson, the head of the cult, had an extreme God complex and was hypnotically powerful in getting his followers to do his dirty work. He wasn’t at the murder of Sharon Tate but had instructed it and was, ultimately, found guilty of it along with other members of his cult.
The book is not a direct lift of the story but is based firmly on it. It is interesting for the protagonist to literally be a narrator of the lifestyle and lead up to the horrific events rather than central to the story. The girl Evie is likeable and her character is well written. The voice of the book was engaging and I found it incredibly difficult to put down. I was so intrigued by the story that I went on to read Helter Skelter which was written by the prosecutor of the Manson murder trial. It became clear to me how tightly the plot of The Girls was tied with actual events. Helter Skelter is written in such detail with many complicated legal points explained in detail though and I think that just to understand an overview of the story, The Girls is a great place to start and, maybe, end. The Girls isn’t grisly and horrific like the truth!
This is a highly recommended summer read. It felt hazy and hot, I felt like I was breathing the summer when she was a girl and I could feel the cold wind from the sea in her account as a grown up. I loved the voice of her younger self and I found the pace of the story worked really well. I ended up feeling quite sorry for a lot of the characters and a little frustrated for the situations they found themselves in. I have a real fondness for the novel and I note that it is Emma Cline’s debut. I look forward to future offerings.