I seem to have fallen behind (given up) on book reviews on here. As with many things I do tend to go through phases with this blog. And then I find unpublished posts just sitting there, like this:
The past few weeks has seen me take on two debut novels with girl in the title: Riley Sager’s – Final Girls, and Emma Cline’s – The Girls.
Sager’s book is psychological thriller built around the idea of female sole survivors of mass killings being called ‘Final Girls’. Her protagonist is Quincy Carpenter, the survivor of a massacre that killed six of her friends while they were on holiday at Pine Cottage ten years earlier. She has moved on, mostly by trying to pretend that she’s moved on, and has a nice live in the city with a lawyer boyfriend. When another ‘Final Girl’ is murdered and a third appears on her doorstep, Quincy is eventually forced to face her demons and address just Why she can’t remember the details of the night of her attack.
This novel has caused a stir. Publishers were involved in a huge bidding war to land the rights to publish it and you can expect to find it marketed promoted to an inch of its life during 2017. Stephen King likes it: ‘The first great thriller of 2017 is almost here: FINAL GIRLS, by Riley Sager. If you liked GONE GIRL, you’ll like this’ , he says in pre published praise.
Ok. I did like Gone Girl, and I did like this, but: for me, at east, it really isn’t in the same league. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it is just that I was never totally absorbed or involved with it.
The idea to pay homage to classic horror slasher movies whilst also bringing in a thriller aspect to the whole piece is one I liked (and no doubt t won’t be long before an adaptation of this comes to a cinema screen near you – it could make a very good film), and I’m hoping the surname choose of Carpenter was a hat tip to the great John Carpenter. But I wanted more than I got. Yes, it does well with dangling red herrings in front of the reader, and I was slower to pick up some clues than I normally am in such books, but in the end I just thought it was, solid. Enjoyable enough, fine for a holiday read, but not a book I’d go out of my way to recommend as a ‘must read’.
I would be more inclined (pun intended) to recommend The Girls. The protagonist here is Evie Boyd who is also connected to a mass murder, this one perpetuated by member of a cult: indeed the book’s main event and the cult portrayed are based lose on that of Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate murder. What is impressive is what Cline does with that idea. Told mostly in flashback it is a well observed and nuanced portrayal of adolescence. Summer 1969 and Evie is just desperate to be noticed. She feels frumpy, unattractive, invisible. He parent have split up: her Dad swapping her mom for a younger model; her mother meanwhile is collecting new boyfriends. Between them there is little time for Evie. And the Evie sees Suzanne, whose “face answered all its own questions.” She seems to instantly provide the excitement and mystery missing from Evie’s life.
What follows is Evie’s slow and gradual move away from her home life to live as part of a cult with the Suzanne and a group of other, mainly, girls and their leader ‘Russell’.
That could be it, a so what, a so-cliched-bring-on-the-sex kind of book. That isn’t what you get though. Instead this book rises above that expectation with an assured quality and believability of the writing. It’s not showy in any way , the murders happen, but they are not the focal point of the book. It’s about the fears and feeling of a teenage girl, and Evie’s feelings and fears in 1969 would seem to ring as true for many teenage girls today as they do for her then. An impressively written debut.