I read The Girls by Emma Cline after a recommendation from my friend Anne when we were discussing having been fascinated by the podcast series ‘Charles Manson’s Hollywood’ on the podcast You Must Remember This.
I had heard of Charles Manson but knew nothing about him. The podcast was gripping as it intelligently unpacked the story of how Manson built up his cult and led a band of mainly young women looking for a different way of life in late 1960s America. This culminated in the brutal murders of seven people, including most famously Sharon Tate, the actress married to Roman Polanski.
So much of this story is so incredible that you would not believe it if it was fiction – particularly Manson’s belief that there was a secret message for him in the Beatles song Helter Skelter.
The Girls is a really clever fictional take on what happened. It’s a way of understanding how Manson gathered these girls and young women around him – young women buffeted by the social changes going on around them, sick of conforming to normal life and hungry for something bigger and more meaningful.
The main protagonist of the novel Evie is one such 14 year old girl. Her parents have semi abandoned her as they build new lives with new partners and she wanders into friendship with some of Manson’s cult having seen them in a park, rooting through bins for food. Senior Manson girl Suzanne tries a little to protect her and discourage her from joining the commune, but does not try hard enough.
Rules begin to be broken and what starts with drugs, petty theft and housebreaking nearly ends with Evie’s involvement in one of the darkest crimes in modern American history. But (spoiler alert) Evie is spared by Suzanne at the last minute from going to the Polanski House that night. She is not spared though from association with the Manson Murders, an association which shapes the rest of her life.
This is a great book and I would highly recommend both it and the podcast for those wanting to know more about how such a thing could happen.