Although all names have been changed, The Girls , Emma Cline’s highly acclaimed debut novel, is a retelling of the events surrounding Charles Manson and his ‘family’ in the summer of 1969. Evie Boyd is a bored teenage girl who just wants someone to want her. When she meets the beautiful and bedraggled Suzanne, one hot summer day in California, she is instantly intrigued and attracted.
There is much to recommend this book. Cline’s prose is at times breath-taking and thoroughly transporting; despite reading in the midst of a British winter, I was psychologically sticky with the heat of that 1960s Californian sun. Furthermore, Cline’s knack for recognising the intricacies and inconsistencies of human behaviour is second to none, and she captures the delicious queasiness of blossoming teenage sexuality beautifully. Still, though, I was left feeling ultimately underwhelmed. The problem is, we know this story already. And whilst Cline’s retelling constitutes the insertion of a female perspective into real historical events – a vital and commendable project – as fiction, the inevitability of the ending felt, to me, like an anti-climax. True crime fans should certainly check out The Girls, as, perhaps, should fans of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which I always think of as a swelteringly hot novel. As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what Cline does next.