Book Review: The Girls, by Emma Cline

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_girlsPicking up The Girls, it’s immediately obvious that Cline is writing a fictitious tale of a young girl’s encounter with Charles Manson and his ‘family’ during the summer of 1969, and how it shaped her life in the years since.

A single woman drifting from house-sitting job to home care gig to the occasional live-in lover; Evie is nothing like the 14-year-old she remembers being when she met Suzanne, Helen and Donna that summer. Of course whenever anyone talks about that summer they talk about Russell, and Mitch’s house, and what happened that night; but really it all started with Suzanne and the girls. It was all about the Suzanne and the girls. Even now.

The Girls perfectly captures the twilight time in every girl’s life when she’s caught between little girl and woman: wanting to be more, given more responsibility, treated like an adult, viewed like a woman but still unsure of exactly what that means, what those consequences are let alone how to handle them. Emma Cline introduces us to Evie on the cusp of adulthood at a time when her whole world seemed confused about what it wanted and what it meant. The new generation was eclipsing the old and her family’s social standing and old money was suddenly an embarrassment not an asset.

Hungry for something to happen, anything to happen; desperate for attention and longing for some sophistication, Evie unwittingly becomes the afternoon special all parent’s fear, while managing to embody the missive “But for the grace of God go I”. She’s also totally authentic as both a teenager and a grown woman, something I don’t find all that common in novels – it’s usually one more so than the other.

The Girls is one of those rare books that sweeps you up with a story that makes you cancel plans and ignore the phone, your family and the alarm clock (pretty good considering you have a fair idea what’s going to happen!). And it’s also exquisitely written. Cline’s grasp of language, her turn of phrase is stunning. The two together make this an unforgettable read with a protagonist you genuinely invest your heart and head with, one you miss when you close that cover for the last time. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

In a weird twist of fate, I actually studied the Manson Murders when I was 15 and wrote to Charles Manson in prison. (No it was not school or parent approved and yes I got into trouble. More so when he replied.) So for those not so au fait with the Manson family, these are the character equivalents in The Girls: Russell is Charles Manson, Suzanne is Susan ‘Sexy Sadie’ Atkins, Helen is Linda Kasabian, Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel is Donna, Guy is Tex Watson and Mitch is Terry Melcher. Terry’s ex-girlfriend Linda and her son Christopher are purely fiction – their characters and back story don’t match the people involved in the real life event, though they are obviously inspired by it.

Five stars.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

The Girls
by Emma Cline
Published by Chatto & Windus / Penguin
ISBN 9781784740450

Book Review: The Girls, by Lisa Jewell

Available nationwide from 2 July.cv_the_girls

A closed London suburban community, centred around a developed common garden is the least place to expect anything out of the ordinary. Some families are of three generations of residency around its border. Children use the garden and its planned areas for play and exploration. All seems peaceful.

Until a disturbing incident reveals their dubious background and events from the past are dragged into the here and now.

The most recently arrived residents – Grace and her daughters Grace and Pip – have brought with them their own story and trauma. As the two girls are gradually accepted by the Garden’s children, their mother is drawn into socialising with other parents. Over months we become more and more uneasy about the manner of each resident’s stories.

We follow Clare’s experiences among the community as she learns more about them and their past interaction: a man with a reputation, an elderly woman who has observed it all, a child neglected by her mother, the family whose three daughters are home-schooled, a young boy who cares for his adult brother’s welfare. Both Clare and Adele (the home-schooling mother) are drawn into following the trail of the children’s play, and in doing so learn of events more and more disturbing.

At first, in spite of the crime occurring in the first chapter, the domesticity of each family seemed of little interest. But as the back story worked its way through the lead up to the crime, I was drawn into the same feelings of worry felt by any protective mother, as Clare discovers more and more detail about her neighbours and their children. On reading through to the end, I have to adjudge the writer’s ability to entangle a reader in the mesh of the community as being superbly deceptive and enthralling. I am glad I had the opportunity to read Lisa Jewell’s thirteenth novel – and have a lot of catch up reading to do now.

Reviewed by Lynn McAnulty-Street

The Girls
Lisa Jewell
Published by Century, for Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781780893594