Tag Archives: Emma Cline

The Girls – Emma Cline

One of the books that is, without question, being most talked about this summer is Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls. It is one of those books that seems to be everywhere and everyone is raving about, in fact they were before it came out which I have to admit put me off reading the proof. However the urge suddenly grabbed me, I am great believer in reading books when your mood is just right, a few weeks ago. Several weeks later I am still mulling over the way the book made me feel because I think it is fair to say I had rather a roller coaster of extreme feelings about it which are only just starting to settle down.

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Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2016, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.

In the summer of 1969 Evie is just fourteen and struggling with school friendships, hormones and her mother gaining a new boyfriend. From the moment she spots a group of slightly older girls getting off a coach and wandering around her town she becomes somewhat besotted. These are the girls she dreams of having friendships with, these are the kind of girls that she dreams of being and so she starts to, in a cutely naive and slightly doe-eyed way, linger around waiting for an opportunity to engage with them. After a rather daring act for her age she does indeed befriend one of them, Suzanne, who is also seemingly the leader of this girl gang. Soon Evie is drawn into a whole different sphere as she follows the girls back to where they live, which happens to be the home of a cult and its charmingly manipulative leader, Russell.

I think it is pretty common knowledge that Cline has centred her book around a fictional take of the Charles Manson murders, which I have to admit I knew (and still know) very little about. So from the start we know that there is going to be something horrific that happens at the end. What we don’t know, and really becomes the momentum for why we keep reading, is how implicit Evie becomes in those dreadful events. Cline does something else to add a layer of enigma to that when she alternates chunks of the book with Evie at 14 and then several decades later when she is staying at a friends house hiding away from the world.

This also rather brilliantly adds a very clever dynamic to the narratives of Evie, particularly as when she is younger we have the naivety of her age at the time, as well as her rebellion, but also a slight sense of hindsight because of the older Evie telling us that story now. It creates a slight unseen sublayer that also makes us question how much of what she is telling us is the complete truth; you all know I love a good unreliable narrator. With this technique Cline does wonderfully evoke the thoughts, feelings and most importantly the vulnerability of being a teenager, when you think you know how the world works and you are a complete grown up but years later realise you had no clue, and the whole idea of hero worship.

As soon as I’d caught sight of the girls cutting their way through the park, my attention stayed pinned on them. The black-haired girl with her attendants, their laughter a rebuke to my aloneness. I was waiting for something without knowing what. And then it happened. Quick, but still I saw it: the girl with black hair pulled down the neckline of her dress for a brief second, exposing the red nipple on her bare breast. Right in the middle of a park swarming with people. Before I could fully believe it, the girl yanked her dress back up. They were all laughing, raunchy and careless; none of them even glanced up to see who might be watching.

Because of all these factors I raced through the first part of the book, even when it starts to get a little bit icky towards the end when Evie and Russell finally meet. Admittedly, as well as the book grabbing, part of why I was racing through it was for Evie to get to the cult and to then see how Cline evoked the persuasive nature of a leader who could get people to believe in the oddest of things. She does this brilliantly chillingly and uncomfortably. My skin was crawling as you feel yourself being groomed through Evie’s eyes.

“We can make each other feel good,” he said. “You don’t have to be sad.”
I flinched when he pushed my head towards his lap. A singe of clumsy fear filled me. He was good at not seeming angry when I reared away. The indulgent look he gave me, like I was a skittish horse.
“I’m not trying to hurt you, Evie.” Holding out his hand again. The strobe of my heart going fast. “I just wantto be close to you. And don’t you want me to feel good? I want you to feel good.”

Yet after the initial introduction to the girls, the cult and the repulsive Russell the book took a couple of turns for me as a reader that I wasn’t expecting. I hate to say it but in part two I got really, really bored. Let me explain why. For some reason just as Cline gets us to the cult storyline she turns away from it, even though Cline has said this book is about peripheral characters around a horrendous event which is fair enough. She instead veers away and takes us to the present where Evie strikes a weird friendship with a much younger woman. Whilst I understood why she did it, after I realised which Evie we were with, as it is another discussion of female role models and bonds between women, it just felt a bit clunky and unnecessary. Then when we do go back to the summer 1969 suddenly seems to shy away from the cult and just focus on the girls causing mild havoc in suburbia instead. I was a bit miffed frankly. However her writing and the brooding slightly gothic sense of doom led me on to part three… the part which made me utterly furious. See I said it was a rollercoaster of a read for me.

As most readers will know there are going to be murders I don’t think it is a spoiler, or much of a leap of common sense, to know these will happen towards the end. For me Cline suddenly ramps everything up and sends us suddenly to that point. Two weird things happened as we got to these murders, which to be honest suddenly came quite left field after quite a few pages of meandering elsewhere, for me. Firstly I was taken back to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood where as you get to the actual description of the murders I started to feel sweaty sick and actually cried as they went on, so Cline had got to me in some way. Then, unlike with In Cold Blood in fact the polar opposite, I suddenly felt incredibly manipulated by this book, then disgusted. Then really, really, really angry.

Whereas with In Cold Blood (which is a masterpiece and slightly unfair to compare this novel to but it is my reference point and what I thought about after reading The Girls) you get to know the murderers and their motives inside out as well as the lives of the victims, you don’t with The Girls. The girls themselves are quite shadowy and two dimensional, Evie is really the only fully formed character, who still in some ways remains an enigma. So therefore the intended impact for me to be horrified yet try and understand how these girls ended up doing such a horrific thing, was completely lost. Instead it felt more like Cline had decided to write about a famous murder and the people behind it but chickened out somewhat and wrote about the character on the periphery instead but kept a big, slightly voyeuristic gory murder scenario in because that is what would sell books. At least that is how that all made me feel which I am sure is not what Cline intended at all, it is just what I was left with.

Extreme I know, but that is where this book took me which I am actually really sad about because Emma Cline can clearly write, her prose is wonderful throughout even in the horror-fest which as I said did the job because it moved me to tears. I just wish I had felt it was all for more of a reason and I didn’t. Really strange. Funnily enough I was talking about this book just the other day and was saying how this is probably how it feels to be someone who loathed A Little Life, which you know I have a special place in my bookish heart for, and felt it utterly manipulated them. I am also clearly in a very small minority because everyone I love and turn to for book recommendations has been utterly bowled over by it. It is also for that reason, though I would never tell you not to read a book, that I would still say give the book a whirl and see what you think… then come back to me and have a natter about it please.

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Filed under Chatto & Windus, Emma Cline, Review

Books I’m Looking Forward to in the Next Six Months

I know we are past the middle of the first month of 2016 but, as is my want, I thought it might be a nice idea to let you know about some of the books that I am really looking forward to reading over the next six months published in the UK. I know, I know, it is the list you have all been waiting for. Ha! For a few years now, every six months, Gavin and I share 13 of the books that we are most excited about on The Readers podcast, based on which publishers catalogues we can get our mitts on – so sometimes we miss some, so I thought this year I would make it a new biannual post. Getting to that final thirteen is almost impossible (actually one year it was a struggle) and this year it has been particularly tough as it looks set to be a year of corkers. In fact my longlist of books I’m keen to get my hand on is 60 books (and would have been 62 if I hadn’t already read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh) long. Yes that is right, 60 books. I have highlighted a few each month that I will definitely be reading or getting my mitts on. So, grab a cuppa tea and settle down with a notepad or bookstore website open next to you…

January

Mr Splitfoot – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)

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Nat and Rose are young orphans, living in a crowded foster home run by an eccentric religious fanatic. When a traveling con-man comes knocking, they see their chance to escape and join him on the road, proclaiming they can channel the dead – for a price, of course. Decades later, in a different time and place, Cora is too clever for her office job, too scared of her abysmal lover to cope with her unplanned pregnancy, and she too is looking for a way out. So when her mute Aunt Ruth pays her an unexpected visit, apparently on a mysterious mission, she decides to join her. Together the two women set out on foot, on a strange and unforgettable odyssey across the state of New York. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who – or what – has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road? Ingenious, infectious, subversive and strange, Mr Splitfoot will take you on a journey you will not regret – and will never forget.

Human Acts – Han Kang (Portobello)

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Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.

The Widow – Fiona Barton (Transworld)
Paulina & Fran – Rachel B. Glaser (Granta)
The World Without Us – Mirelle Juchau (Bloomsbury)
The Outrun – Amy Liptrot (Canongate)
Sea Lovers – Valerie Martin (Serpents Tail)
Dinosaurs on Other Planets – Danielle McLaughlin (John Murray)
The Actual One – Isy Suttie (Orion)

February

The Sympathiser – Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair)

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A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, “The Sympathizer” is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. “The Sympathizer” is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, “The Sympathizer” explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta (Granta)

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One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart. In this masterful novel of faith, love and redemption, Okparanta takes us from Ijeoma’s childhood in war-torn Biafra, through the perils and pleasures of her blossoming sexuality, her wrong turns, and into the everyday sorrows and joys of marriage and motherhood. As we journey with Ijeoma we are drawn to the question: what is the value of love and what is the cost? A triumphant love story written with beauty and delicacy, Under the Udala Trees is a hymn to those who’ve lost and a prayer for a more compassionate world. It is a work of extraordinary beauty that will enrich your heart.

The Butchers Hook – Janet Ellis (Two Roads)
The Narrow Bed – Sophie Hannah (Hodder)
Scary Old Sex – Arlene Heyman (Bloomsbury)
The Children’s House – Charles Lambert (Aardvark Bureau)
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough (Orion)
The Catch – Fiona Sampson (Chatto & Windus)
Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins (Quercus)
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist – Sunil Yapa (Little Brown)

March

Where Love Begins – Judith Hermann (Serpents Tail)

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Stella is married, she has a child and a fulfilling job. She lives with her young family in a house in the suburbs. Her life is happy and unremarkable, but she is a little lonely-her husband travels a lot for work and so she is often alone in the house with only her daughter for company. One day a stranger appears at her door, a man Stella’s never seen before. He says he just wants to talk to her, nothing more. She refuses. The next day he comes again. And then the day after that. He will not leave her in peace. When Stella works out that he lives up the road, and tries to confront him, it makes no difference. This is the beginning of a nightmare that slowly and remorselessly escalates. Where Love Begins is a delicately wrought, deeply sinister novel about how easily the comfortable lives we construct for ourselves can be shattered.

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Penguin Books)

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Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor. It was tucked under my arm and slid out of its black rubber sheath, landing screen-side down. The digital page shattered. Apparently there’s a man in the next flyblown town who mends computers. He could send off for a new screen, which would take a month to arrive. Will I still be here in a month? My mother is sleeping under a mosquito net in the next room. Soon she will wake up and shout, ‘Sofia, get me a glass of water’, and I will get her water and it will be the wrong sort of water. And then after a while I will leave her and return to gaze at the shattered starfield of my screen. Two women arrive in a Spanish village – a dreamlike place caught between the desert and the ocean – seeking medical advice and salvation. One of the strangers suffers from a mysterious illness: spontaneous paralysis confines her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. The other, her daughter Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery, struggling to understand her mother’s illness. Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and the mesmerising figures who move through it, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange programme of treatments invented by Dr Gomez. Searching for a cure to a defiant and quite possibly imagined disease, ever more entangled in the seductive, mercurial games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile the disparate fragments of her identity. Hot Milk is a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic.

Patience – Daniel Clowes (Vintage)
Rain – Melissa Harrison (Faber & Faber)
A Girl in Exhile – Ismail Kadare (Vintage)
The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories – Ken Liu (Head of Zeus)
An Unrestored Woman & Other Stories – Shobha Rao (Virago)
Vertigo – Joanna Walsh (And Other Stories)

April

The Sunlight Pilgrims – Jenni Fagan (Random House)

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Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – The Sunlight Pilgrims tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.

What Belongs To You – Garth Greenwell (Picador)

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On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. And so begins a relationship that could transform his life, or possibly destroy it. What Belongs To You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created a indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

The Trees – Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury)

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There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…There is no warning. No chance to prepare. They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves. Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too. Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

The Cauliflower – Nicola Barker (Random House)
Foreign Soil – Maxine Beneba (Corsair)
The Last of Us – Rob Ewing (Borough Press)
Fragments – Elena Ferrante (Eurpoa Editions)
A Different Class – Joanne Harris (Transworld)
Ladivine – Marie NDiaye (Quercus)
The Bricks That Built Houses – Kate Tempest (Bloomsbury)
Six Four – Hideo Yokoyama (Quercus)

May

The Doll Master & Other Tales of Terror – Joyce Carol Oates (Head of Zeus)

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Six terrifying tales to chill the blood from the unique imagination of Joyce Carol Oates. A young boy plays with dolls instead of action figures. But as he grows older, his passion takes on a darker edge…A white man shoots dead a black boy creating a media frenzy. But could it be that it was self-defense as he claims? A nervous woman tries to escape her husband. He says he loves her, but she’s convinced he wants to kill her…These quietly lethal stories reveal the horrors that dwell within us all.

The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)

It is the tutor who tells the young Gustav that he must try to be more like a coconut – that he needs a hard shell to protect the softness inside. This is what his native Switzerland has perfected – a shell to protect its neutrality, to keep its people safe. But his beloved friend, Anton, doesn’t want to be safe – a gifted pianist, he longs to make his mark in the world outside. On holiday one summer in Davos, the boys stumble across a remote building. Long ago, it was a TB sanitorium; now it is wrecked and derelict. Here, they play a game of life and death, deciding which of their imaginary patients must burn. It becomes their secret. The Gustav Sonata begins in the 1930s, under the shadow of the Second World War, and follows the boys into maturity, and middle age, where their friendship is tested as never before.

The Bones of Grace – Tahmima Anam (Canongate)
The Beautiful Dead – Belind Bauer (Transworld)
The Witches of New York – Amy McKay (Orion)
This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)
Now and Again – Charlotte Rogan (Virago)
The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)

June

Fen – Daisy Johnson (Vintage)

Daisy Johnson’s Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what? English folklore and a contemporary eye, sexual honesty and combustible invention – in Fen, these elements have come together to create a singular, startling piece of modern fiction.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry (Profile Books)

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Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way. They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Foxlowe – Eleanor Wassberg (Harper Collins)

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A chilling, compulsive debut about group mentality, superstition and betrayal – and a utopian commune gone badly wrong We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home. There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya. We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family. We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away. And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free. There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.

Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton (Transworld)
Everyone Is Watching – Megan Bradbury (Picador)
Addlands – Tom Bullough (Granta)
The Girls – Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus)
Black Water – Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber)
Early Riser – Jasper Fforde (Hodder)
The Little Communist That Never Smiled – Lola Lafon (Serpents Tail)
The Bed Moved – Rebecca Schiff (John Murrary)
Smoke – Dan Vyleta (Orion)
Our Young Man – Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

Phew! So that is the list, it has changed slightly since we recorded The Readers as Gav and I had a couple of snap choices and also I found out some other books were coming out earlier than thought or I simply only discovered them in the last few months. There will be many more I discover or hear about too I am sure. I have just thought of several I have missed (Kit De Waal, Nicholas Searle and a whole shelf of prrof I can’t get to due to scaffolding) so there will be many more. Anyway, quite a few for you to go and find out more about and a good list for me to have when I am stuck in a bookshop without a clue of what to by next – as if that ever happens. Right, I better get reading then. Which of these do you fancy? Which books are you looking forward to in the next six months?

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Who Fancies Attending Stylist Magazine Live?

Today is a day of giveaways, as I am still too jetlagged to actually write a review or even concentrate on a book (which is quite annoying frankly). The first of today’s two give aways might not initially seem that booky but in fact is rather booky indeed, as Stylist Magazine have kindly given me 10 pairs of tickets to give away for Stylist Live to the first 10 of you to apply for them. What is Stylist Live? Well, funny you should ask that, it is a four day event where Stylist Magazine (who emailed me and said they were a fan of the blog which thrilled me to bits obviously) quite literally comes to live. They have live fashion shows, live events with celebrities, masterclasses on all kinds of journalism, live baking and cookery (and cocktails, woohoo) as well as some very booky events. These, which I know you will be the most interested in, though the line up over the four days is pretty brilliant, are quite first rate. Two highlights are such as Salman Rushdie & Emma Cline: Literary Legend vs 2016 hottest debut author. Salman Rushdie converses with American writer Emma Cline whose debut novel The Girls is 2016’s most anticipated novel months before its release – The audience will each receive an advance copy of this 2016 must-read. There is also a Q&A with one of Stylist’s favourite feminist writers, Caitlin Moran known for her bestselling books How to be a Woman and How to Build a Girl as she talks to journalist Sophie Heawood. You can also see Yotam Ottolenghi talking about his cook books and what we will all be eating over the next year. Plus, one of my favourite things… a daily book club with the Booker winner, Nina Stibbe, and Kate Griffin. You can see the full event schedule right here.

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Now of course what you want to know is how you could win and get your self down there (well you have to physically get yourself there but you know what I mean) on one of its four days in London. It is really simple. You follow this link here then type in Quills and select your date and if you want a ticket or two – that is all. I will be there on a few of the days and am hoping to see some of your lovely faces there. Good luck and let me know if you win and are heading there!

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Filed under Give Away, Random Savidgeness