The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train. The Girl With All The Gifts. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Girl in the Dark. The Good Girl. Girls on Fire. So Many Girls.
That last one isn’t a book but rather an observation. Clearly publishers are no more averse to cashing in on the latest marketing trends than movie studios, TV networks and record companies.
And now we get Emma Cline’s debut novel, simply titled The Girls. Yet another dark thriller about girls doing bad things or having bad things done to them? In a way yes but also so much more.
Set in 1969 California, the book tells the story of thoughtful but impressionable 14-year-old Evie Boyd as she becomes entangled in a commune run by the charismatic and much older aspiring musician Russell.
But it’s not Russell – a thinly-veiled Charles Manson – who has seduced Evie into this strange world but rather Suzanne, Russell’s raven-haired number one. She’s mysterious and sexy and awakens in Evie some powerful desire for acceptance and belonging that leads her all too easily down a dark path.
Cline is a precocious new talent – she’s just 27 years old – and this is a stunning novel. Evie is one of the most thoroughly three-dimension characters I’ve read in a long time: flawed and frustrating but totally believable, she shows us how even smart, sensible and privileged people can be led astray. Russell himself is sidelined from the story, appearing in only a few scenes. Cline takes the view that we know enough about Manson and his misguided mania and the story of the girls – the ones who ultimately wielded the knife on his behalf – are more interesting.
Her prose is rich and inventive, occasionally bordering on florid but never quite tipping over the edge. It’s a fast, easy read that brims with depth and insight. And when the violence finally comes – as we know all along that it will – it’s handled skilfully, even beautifully.
If the title helps it get more readers then great: this is a fantastic book that deserves all the attention it can get.
Next: something intergalactic.