A few months ago, I read an article – I think it was in Vogue magazine – about this person who’d written a debut novel and managed to get an unprecedented advance for it. She sounded interesting, and the novel sounded like it’d be right up my street, mainly because the article said it was about growing up in a cult, which I did.
And then a couple of weeks ago, a copy of a book dropped through my letterbox and I started reading it. I didn’t make the connection until I was a few chapters in, and then I thought, Wait a minute. This is that book.
I wanted to like it, I really did. And I certainly didn’t hate it. I wish I hadn’t read the Vogue piece, because once I’d realised that was the book I was reading, I was then comparing it to all the things the article had said about how earth-shatteringly amazing this novel was, and I think that made it pale in comparison to its preemptive praise.
I liked it about as much as I liked The Dry by Jane Harper, which was a good solid crime novel that let you into its world and didn’t have any pretentions above its station.
I feel like The Girls was trying too hard to be the next Great American Novel. The language was just a touch too flowery, the descriptions just a tiny bit too desperate, the characters trying just slightly too hard to be relatable.
And based on what I’d read beforehand, I’d expected the cult angle to be a bit more… culty. In reality Evie, the book’s main character, is swept along by friends she’s only just made, and hangs around on the periphery of the group without any real understanding of what’s going on. Write what you know, they say, and in general I disagree, because if people did that we’d have no science fiction, but in this case I feel like the author didn’t quite manage to break into the mindset of a person who’s being sucked into a cult by a charismatic leader and her own desperation for friends.
But I feel like I’m doing the book an unjustice here. It is good. It is a pretty easy read, although it didn’t make me desperate to read it in one sitting. I was happy to split it over the course of several days, which considering that it’s not massively long isn’t exactly high praise.
It’s just that, to be completely honest, I felt like it was kind of… average. It’s a good book, the characters are fine, the story’s OK, it kept my mind occupied for a few hours in waiting rooms and on my sofa. But nothing about it made me go “wow, I must keep reading”. And, based on the things I’d read about it beforehand, that was what I was expecting.
In summary, therefore, I wish I hadn’t read anything about The Girls before I picked it up, because I think my perception was coloured to the extent that I couldn’t see past what the book should have been, to what it actually is: a perfectly acceptable novel that many people will no doubt greatly enjoy.
The Girls by Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus) was shortlisted for the British Books Awards 2017.
I received a review copy of The Girls from the publisher. All views are my own.