The Girls is possibly the most hyped book of the year (not including Harry Potter). The story is based on the Manson Family Murders, centering around a young girl who gets involved with a commune. I was really intrigued to read it, but does it live up to the hype?
From the blurb:
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 narrator of the story is Evie Boyd, who was a 14 year old girl at the time of the murders in the late 60s, but is middle aged now.
At the beginning of the novel Evie is a bit down on her luck; the inheritance money from her grandmother’s acting career has run out, so she splits her time between working as a live in carer and housesitting for friends. When the door of her friend’s holiday home rattles in the middle of the night, Evie is convinced that someone is going to harm her. She imagines a brutal crime taking place, and has pretty much convinced herself she will be murdered, before realising that it’s just her friend’s son, Julian and his girlfriend Sasha. The way Evie imagines events unfolding in her head tells you a lot very early on; she is terrified, and yet accepting. It’s as if she expects to be harmed, and feels like it is nothing less than she deserves.
When Julian and Evie get reacquainted, he realises that she is “that friend”, and it transpires that Evie was once involved with an infamous commune, who ended up murdering a number of people. The commune was mostly made up of young women & teenage girls, and their leader the charismatic Russell. Outwardly Evie downplays her involvement, but internally she can’t help but obsess over the murders, the violence, and her role in their lives.
When Julian leaves the next morning he leaves behind his young girlfriend Sasha. Sasha is very young and naive, and Evie sees her teenage self in Sasha. Evie starts to confide in Sasha about her life at the commune, and recounts how she first met the Girls.
As Evie tells her story, she reflects on love, adolescence, and the violence that people are secretly capable of.
This book was…an experience; the writing is beautiful, with a dreamlike style that reminded me of The Virginia Suicides. The fictionalised murders are fascinating, and the viewpoint of a teenage girl, who is both a part of the commune and an outsider, keeps you guessing as to the extent of Evie’s involvement.
This is one of those novels that defy categorisation; it’s not a coming of age novel, it’s not a thriller, but it does have elements of both. I can see this book being discussed at length in literature classes for years to come. That being said, it ended so abruptly, leaving me thinking is that it? Maybe this was the point, to leave the reader with a sense that they still don’t know everything, but it just felt a bit untidy to leave us hanging without some sort of resolution for Evie. Although again, maybe this was the point
Have you read The Girls or is it in your TBR? Let me know in the comments.