books · review

The Girls by Emma Cline

Emma Cline’s The Girls tells the story of Evie Boyd, an ex-member of a cult in 1970’s  Petaluma, California. The novel begins properly with Evie’s present- a somewhat run-of-the-mill, paycheck to paycheck life, in which she house-sits in various places and does little else. However, we have already been introduced to her colorful past in the two pages that make up the introduction of the novel- with the eponymous girls mentioned within the opening line. We learn very quickly that the Evie was involved in a cult that was involved in murderous activity from her interactions in this section- and this sets the reader up for the rest of the novel, to find out how the seemingly normal Evie was ever involved in this, and how the events unfolded. Because of this, there are no real surprises in the novel- everything we read inevitably leads up to what we have already been told will happen.

The protagonist, Evie, is introduced in the 1960’s as a 14 year-old who is lost in the sense that all 14 year-old girls are- struggling with divorced parents, confusion about sex, and wondering just who she really is. If the novel is truly about anything- it is this. All the details given about Evie’s life, repeated throughout the story, the house-sitting, the movie-star grandmother, the hippyish mother, all feel as if they should be clues to lead to something else, but they never does. Much like the novel, which feels to me to end rather oddly- you are left wondering what the purpose of all these details was- after all, why would Cline include it, if it wasn’t somehow part of some greater whole?

Part of the point of the novel seems to be that just about anyone could have got caught up in that cult culture at the time- showing the vulnerability of girls. We see that Evie is not a bad person, through the details that Cline gives about her. They make it impossible to think of her as anything but an innocent kid who got swept away in something much bigger than herself- and I think this is something Evie herself struggles with- wondering if she could have been like them, wondering what really separated her from them.

Another is the preoccupation (inferred from the title) with girls. We see many different types of girls within the novel- Evie’s mother, with her desperation to ‘find herself’, Tamar with her obsession with her life being ‘just-so’, Sasha and her strange relationship with Julian, and the girls at the ranch. Sasha’s character appears to be the primary reason for the ‘present’ parts of the novel for existing- they focus entirely on Evie seeing Sasha and wanting to help her, to stop her from settling for her relationship with Julian, and it is clear Evie sees something of herself within Sasha. The focus is on girls- and their dysfunctional relationships with men- which may well be the reason that Evie and the other girls end up living in the commune.

Overall I would give this book a 4/5 rating, it’s enjoyable and a fairly easy read (if you can get used to the unusual prose style) and perfect for a summer read.

books · Novels

Review: Watership Down

“Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now. A foraging wild creature, intent above all upon survival, is as strong as the grass.

 

I picked up Richard Adam’s Watership Down at my local Waterstones recently, not really sure what to expect from it. I had only ever seen the film when I was very young, and, having virtually no memory of it, was going into the novel completely blind. After buying it, a number of people said how sad it was, and so I spent most of the time bracing for some terrible, titanic-like tear jerker that fortunately, I never found.

What I did find was a novel that, despite being to all intents and purposes, about rabbits– and it really is, much as the novel may be termed to have much to say about humans- was very fast-paced, dark and dramatic, with rarely a dull moment to be .found. It is not a childrens book in any sense. Yes it may be true that it is as much a commentary about humans as anything else, there is an awful lot of rabbits in there- both literally and figuratively, as rabbit words (such as ni-frith) and rabbit mythology (the tales of el-ahrairah) interspersed throughout the novel. This does give it elements of childrens literature, but the sheer darkness and violence of the novel can be striking at times- as well as the deep politics involved in the novel, evident through the choosing of Hazel over Bigwig as Chief Rabbit (which surprised more than just the rabbits within the initial grouping) and the inclusion of other animals within the plot.

At times it appears it is just a simple “journey” story, for the rabbits to find their forever home, which in theory, would not take up much page space. What makes the novel different is that Adams appears to spot the plot-holes that would otherwise be there, and have the rabbits solve them- practical considerations, such as breeding, protection and food must be taken into account, so that whenver it may appear that the novel has come t an end, it truly has not, and there is much more to come, which in the case of this novel is a more than welcome surprise.

I have to say that this truly is one of the best novels I’ve read- or at least, one of the only ones I would go so far as to use the term “unputdownable” for in the sense that you really can’t stop reading because it feels so essential to know what happens next, and can only wish that there were more to be read.