The Girls was absolutely fantastic. I’ve heard a lot of hype about it over the last few months, but given my lack of knowledge on the Manson Family it’s based on, it was never quite my cup of tea. But after finishing (and thoroughly enjoying) Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, I finally had the context to turn to it. I’m glad I had that context first, because it really helped to anchor the story in place and time for me, filling in a depth of background that meant I could focus in on the characters Cline depicts.
Our protagonist is teenager Evie Boyd – lonely and adrift in a summer of transitions. Abandoned by her best friend, rejected by her love interest, and in the midst of her parents’ divorce, Evie is a lost soul who drifts into the “Manson” group from the fringes. Interestingly, it’s not Charles Manson stand-in Russell that Evie falls for, but enigmatic older girl Suzanne, who becomes the focus of her teenage obsession over weeks that descend rapidly from hippie-commune to death cult.
Cline made Evie feel very real for me. Her teenage longings had an honesty to them that was easy to recognise. (Becoming particularly raw towards the end, when Evie is forced to question whether she could have participated in the killings herself.) And the ever present dread of events yet to come increased steadily throughout the novel with a mastery that was well-handled.
We also meet Evie decades along the line – still a loner, still somewhat lost – when her name is nothing but a footnote in the most oblique “Manson”-ology. These brief sections of the book worked less well for me – there wasn’t enough to weight their importance, other than to give us a glimpse of Evie-of-the-future. And towards the end, when the intermingling of time-periods became more prevalent, it became harder to distinguish them in audio form, which did pull me out of the story a little due to temporary confusion. (As did the American pronunciation of buoyed – booied, really??? :D)
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Girls, and was pleasantly vindicated in my New Year’s reading resolution to branch out into books I might otherwise not have considered. Definitely a recommended read from me.
[Read from 12-15 February 2017]