Author: Emma Cline
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
What is as good as eating an entire packet of biscuits, one after the other? Reading about cults. It is so much fun. The Girls is a novel with a cult-survivor at its centre. How tasty and delicious will this cult themed offering be?
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Middle-aged protagonist Evie Boyd lives modestly from job to job, not happy but not unhappy. The degenerate tail end of a Hollywood dynasty, Evie can count her friends on one hand, but she isn’t lonely—just a bit sad a lot of the time. Evie is staying for free at a friend’s isolated beach house when the friend’s no-hoper son lumbers in unannounced in the middle of the night with his teen girlfriend in tow. Evie is triggered back in time to 1969 when, as a young teenager in thrall to a beautiful hippy cult member, she came very close to taking part in a murderous home invasion.
A premise with all the potential for an excellent cult-centred novel, but sadly, the lack of idea and character development is frustrating, despite the talent with language Cline demonstrates. The story shifts back and forth in time between Evie in the present as a dissatisfied adult, in the past as a dissatisfied fourteen year old, and finally as a naïve teen hanging around a cult ranch. Evie is an annoying and pitiful character, both as a kid and as an adult. Her experiences through life do nothing to suck the personality failures out of her.
So, what is the point of The Girls? In its favour: it is slightly exciting, the writing is consistent, and though it drags a little early on, the pacing is solid for the most part. This is definitely not the worst fiction I have ever read, but that sweet cult voyeurism you are craving will not be found here. The Girls is excellent reading perhaps for those who like the notion of transgression but don’t want it to be too wild, and readers for whom fact might be too uncomfortable. For anybody else, The Girls offers a solid but lacklustre few hours reading.