‘The Girls’ is a novel by Emma Cline, published by Random House. It depicts middle-aged Evie’s memories of her time in a hippie commune in the 60s…a far more sinister tale than you would first believe. I really liked the use of older Evie – I don’t know if this is a common trope, but I’ve never read a story about the 60s that explored the permanent impact of that era upon an individual. Older Evie’s interactions with younger generations are some of the most interestingly thought-out sections of the novel, and I think the structure of it worked extremely well.
Cline brilliantly evokes the hypnotic haze of the summer of 1969. I think that it is very easy to turn to nostalgia and stereotype when writing about these culturally seminal years, but I didn’t feel that ‘The Girls’ did that at all. Alternately gritty and fantastical, the writing style is an achievement in itself. This is without even considering the characters, who are extremely well-drawn. Portraying quietly manipulative relationships is a difficult task, and one that Cline does well. Suzanne in particular is extremely well-drawn. It was her, rather than Russell, the apparent leader of the commune, that was the most interesting to me due to her complete abandonment of all norms within relationships, both sexual and otherwise.
My one problem with the novel is that it doesn’t really seem to have a point, if that makes sense, other than pure depiction of the potential danger of the ‘peace, love and drugs’ era. Not that depiction for its own sake is a problem, but I would have liked more of an exploration into the permanent psychological damage that Evie has experienced. However, this may simply be because I was so entranced by the middle-aged Evie, and wanted to hear more from her! All in all, I was astonished to see that this is Cline’s debut novel – it speaks with a maturity of character and theme that even experienced authors cannot sometimes achieve.
‘The Girls’ will be published on 14th June 2016.