To say I have been looking forward to reading Emma Cline's The Girl's is a massive understatement. I have been hounding the patient staff at my local bookstore since January to let me know its exact arrival date. I devotedly saved my copy to read until the perfect moment (wrapped up in blankets in a log cabin in the woods of course). This is no surprise. I'm the type of bookish modern woman with bohemian aspirations and an aesthetic toward the Instagrammable that slots perfectly into Emma Cline's fan club before reading one word.
Emma deftly combines harsh social insight, nostalgic whimsy and urgent, evocative writing. Many of her sentences and descriptions are literary perfection. She wrenches scenes from everyday life and imbues them with fresh meaning with a few blunt, unlikely words. She crawls under the skin of her womanhood and presents us with the raw vulnerability of girlhood. It's so good, it hurts. There were so many moments where I thought, "Yes! This is what I have been trying to say all along!"
Then of course there is the idea of a cult, a cult that kills. This is an outcome that is made clear from the beginning of the book, and the sense of imminent danger clings to every sentence like incense smoke.
Still, with this splendour firing from all cylinders, The Girls left me a bit cold. I enjoyed reading it, but I didn't rush to bed every night to read it. I didn't feel the need to push it into the hands of my friends the way I did with say, Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. I didn't sit reeling after the last page, not knowing how to integrate back into the normal world.
I've been trying to put my finger on why this is. How can a book so perfectly realised fail to move me? I've settled on a few reasons. Unfortunately, I think the flourish of Emma's incredible writing got in the way of me truly connecting to her story. Her prose was a well-dressed woman that didn't look anyone in the eye. While it is important to speak of the ways that women are demeaned by men (and fellow women) on a daily basis, I would have related to a character with a bit more fight in her. I never really liked Evie, the lead character in The Girls, and couldn't sympathise with her fate. Finally, I am feeling a bit exhausted with the relentless portrayal of the US as a wasteland. It seems as if modern American writers feel almost obliged to paint the US in dull, muted shades, zooming in on deadbeat bars, abandoned parking lots and soulless Walmarts. Perhaps it's an African thing, but I believe hope and optimism can persist, even in the most barren soil. For all her 27 years and (dare I say it), privileged upbringing, Emma just seems a bit jaded.
Regardless of my one small opinion, the book remains a masterpiece in its own way, and an important piece of work if only for the detailed still life it provides on what it means to be a woman.
Read the book and let me know what you think! Did you love The Girls?
Oh! And I made a little folky playlist to go with reading the book as well. You can listen to it here!