The Girls by Emma Cline: book review

The Girls by Emma Cline

Overview: Evie was a part of a cult that ultimately committed murder. Except she wasn't present the night it all went wrong in 1969. Instead of prison with the rest of them, she lives a quiet life with an intimate knowledge of the group from The Ranch who committed the brutal killings and why they did it. With intersecting timelines between middle age and her time as a fourteen-year-old running away from home to spend time at the Ranch, her experience with this band of people comes to life showing how dangerously close she got to having her life forever altered. Overall: 3.5

Characters: 3 I found all of the characters in this book flat and hard to relate to. Evie in middle age was perhaps the most relatable. Her ability to reflectively look back and her nurturing feelings towards her friend's son's much younger girlfriend humanize her. But Evie as a teen feels removed. Her main defining trait is trying to desperately be older than she is. She's infatuated with one of the girls at the Ranch, but there's never a good articulation as to why this particular girl is so special. Everything is vague and hazy in a way that feels shallow rather than intentional. Everyone from her parents to the cult leader to the other girls in the cult are enormously lifeless. They're described in the same, spare way at each mention, and there's little development for anyone involved unless you count Evie between fourteen and her thirties or forties. It was hard to find a compelling character in this novel. 

Plot: 4 The interesting thing about the book is that it's about someone who typically wouldn't be a main character. She was on the periphery of the crime. The media never knew her name, and she was erased from the Ranch's history. The framing of the book is that she's spurred to relive that summer by unexpected visitors at the place she's housesitting who remember offhanded stories about her involvement. It's a tenuous thread, and the entire present timeline, while being actually some of the better parts of the book, also feel very superfluous. It demonstrates Evie having grown and matured as you'd hope she would, but it's also a clear plot device. 

Additionally, the past timeline could've been more concise. There's a lot of time devoted to random happenings and Evie going back and forth between the Ranch and her parents' houses in tedious detail. If these anecdotes had offered more development or insight, it would be understandable to draw these additional moments out in the way they are, but it just slowed down the pacing of a book that struggled to lift off the ground from the start. The last fifty pages are pretty interesting, though. 

Writing: 3 Every single noun does not need accompanied by an adjective and a very fluffy, over the top one at that. If you disagree with that statement, this is probably the book for you. It's clearly something many other people enjoyed given the immense praise heaped upon this book, but I found the writing clunky and hard to get past. Its mix of tedium and self importance was off-putting. I've owned this book since July 28th of 2019 (I found the receipt in the book), and I've picked it up, read the first chapter, and put it aside probably five times since then. While I was able to read the book fairly quickly from sheer force of will, which helped, I couldn't get over the distinct feeling that every sentence was painfully overstuffed without actually saying much at all. 

I wasn't a huge fan of The Guest when I read it last year, but I found some elements of it charming, which is why I decided to give her more famous novel another try. I guess I just don't get the hype for this one besides people being interested in a fictionalized twist on the Manson Murders. I'd take The Guest any day if I were recommending one Emma Cline book to pick up. 

More from This Author:

The Guest review

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

Spring Break TBR

Victim ARC review

Kindle Reading Challenge

Piglet review


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