The Girls – Emma Cline

Rating: 5 stars

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The Girls is one of those now ubiquitous ‘not-quite-based-on-a-real-crime’ crime stories. I was put off by the name and the fact that it was related to a real crime, and actually that was wrong of me.

Unlike many other books with the word ‘girls’ in the title, this book is indeed about girls (not adult women, e.g. The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). A group of American teenagers, following Evie, a fourteen-year-old not so much taken in by a charismatic cult leader but by one of his many devoted female followers and sexual partners, the seventeen-year-old Suzanne.

The reason this novel worked for me was that it wasn’t so much about just gawping at the crime element (which was an analogue for the Manson Family Sharon Tate murder) but about women, and the pressures that society puts on women, and how women come to learn about their sexuality. I found it engaging, honest, tough reading – in the best way. It was well written, and I tore through it in a couple of days.

It’s not exactly easy reading – definitely worth noting that it contains a lot of sexual assault and, of course, the murder – but it’s a truthful and absorbing look at one atrocity in the context of a world in which women are always caught in a web of competing obligations and expectations. Check it out!

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

Rating: 5 stars

asking for itBecause we love indie books here, we don’t usually review or talk about mainstream prize-winning fiction here, but Asking For It does, I think, require speaking about.

I would just at this point say that this book deals graphically with rape, and might be upsetting to some readers. Certainly, I did not enjoy this book. It was a great book, and I was glad I read it, but I did not enjoy it. This isn’t a curl-up-by-the-fire book, this is an I-can’t-stop-reading-but-this-is-horrific book.

Loosely modelled on the Steubenville rape case, but set in Ireland, Asking For It tells the story of shallow, insecure, bitchy, selfish, vain Emma. Emma loves male attention. Emma constantly needs to belittle her friends to feel better about herself. Emma is gorgeous and she knows it. I’m pretty sure we are not meant to like Emma. I didn’t like Emma, but that didn’t matter.

So, what happens to Emma forces us to confront the question: what do we do when we don’t like the victim? How do we feel when a drunk, drugged up girl who’s shallow and unkind suffers something awful?

O’Neill’s book is a horrifying, unflinching portrayal of rape culture, sexual assault, and their after-effects in a tight-knit community. It’s searing and merciless and harsh. I couldn’t stop reading. It’s not for the faint hearted but it does incredible work challenging our idea of what a victim is or should be. At no point did I feel that Emma deserved any of what she got, or that her suffering wasn’t valid because she wasn’t a ‘nice’ person – this journey inside that world really underlines that. It’s incredible stuff – just go in prepared.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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