California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life….
Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.
And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
Emma Cline Biography
Emma Cline is from California.
She was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for Fiction.
The Girls is her first novel.
Lena Dunham said ‘This book will break your heart and blow your mind’ and Richard Ford said ‘The Girls is a brilliant and intensely consuming novel – imposing not just for a writer so young, but for any writer, any time.’
Emma Cline on the Inspiration Behind The Girls
The leftovers of the sixties are still so much a part of the collective consciousness of California, especially where I’m from. As a young woman growing up in the shadow of those stories, I noticed how the women and girls of that era were often relegated to bit players in narratives with men at their centre. I wanted a way to engage with those Western myths in a way that wasn’t familiar, and to do so through the lens of girlhood.
Those stories and remnants from that time were always fascinating to me, and the Manson crimes were a defining moment for my parents, both California teenagers when the murders happened. As I grew older, I felt there were large parts of this story that were missing for me. Everyone talked about Charles Manson as being the most fascinating part of the story, but he never interested me: I always wanted to know more about the women and girls. Writing a novel was a way to engage with this myth in a new way.
The Manson girls were young women, many from “normal” middle-class families. They had been homecoming queens and gone to church and had parents who loved them—they led the kind of lives we like to believe prevents people from being capable of murder. I was so interested in those two things together—a kind of innocence we ascribe to teenage girls alongside real violence.
I wanted to know about the Manson girls or other similar milieus that were not answered by research. I was after some other kind of truth, a more emotional truth, and the only way to achieve that was through writing a novel.