It’s the summer of 1969. In California, a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life. The girls. at their centre, Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
Our meeting opened with someone who didn’t rate the book highly at all, finding the writing rather amateurish and grammatically dubious. This was challenged later by others who felt the writing reflected the 1st person narratives of a 14 year-old and a middle-aged woman stuck in limbo because of the traumas of the past.
We seemed to agree, I think, that the characters were interesting and complex, and we grew most animated/emotional when we tried to tackle the character of Russell and his abuse of the children of the ranch. There were some interesting ideas put forward, comparing Russell (or a cult leader in general) to other religious icons, and although there was strong disagreement it was worth having the debate, as an attempt to understand why people can be manipulated/motivated to follow a strong leader (in the case of the book, someone with no moral compass).
We overall felt Cline competently handled the build up to the murder, with lots of foreshadowing and enough background information to help the reader understand how the events could have come about as a result of the disenfranchisement of vulnerable children. Someone made the comment that is was a deeply “cynical” book, and there was a consensus of relief at the inclusion of the character Tom (albeit for only a few pages) as a contrast to the rest of the predatory/pathetic men.
We rated Emma Cline’s The Girls 8 out of 10 with scores ranging from 2 to 9.
Rita, Upper Norwood Library Reading Group