The Girls by Emma Cline is a novel about a cult “inspired” – an odd word in this context – by the Manson Family and a girl, Evie, who becomes drawn into cult activity.
The Manson Family was an American cult, consisting mostly of women, led by Charles Manson in the late 1960s. The Manson Family responsible for a series of heinous murders in Los Angeles.
The Girls was written with a framed narrative from Evie’s adult perspective, as she tries to rebuild her life and an embedded narrative from Evie’s child perspective as she gradually becomes induced into the cult.
I think the novel may have worked equally as well without an adult perspective to frame the narrative; this would have left Evie’s future more open-ended. However, I liked that the adult perspective revealed what became of certain cult members once they were discovered.
The Girls was written in an incredibly effective first-person narrative voice. It spotlighted the deepest thoughts and desires of a young, vulnerable girl who wanted to be seen as beautiful, or clever – or simply be seen. It was clear, and saddening to read, how the cult provided her with that affirmation and drew her in.
The climax of The Girls was quite sudden; I was left wanting a little more – I could happily have had more of Cline’s writing, more of the story.
Evie’s manipulation and acceptance of the cult was shocking. It was also horrid to read how Russell, the older and manipulative cult leader based on Manson, coerced young girls into sexual activity by describing it as “sharing love” with one another.
Of course, unless you’re in that scenario, it’s incredibly difficult to believe people accepted the cult ideology. I couldn’t understand why Evie didn’t question what she was told. I couldn’t understand why her parents didn’t question Evie’s absences, her new appearance, her new behaviour.
The Girls highlighted how some parents are so barely interested or involved in their children’s lives that their child could join a cult and they would still have no idea. That shouldn’t happen.
In terms of writing style, The Girls was an easy read. In terms of content, it was not. You should read it anyway.