FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager is the thriller I’ve been eyeing since early 2017 when Stephen King named it the best of the year. The term “final girl” refers to an existing trope in slasher/horror movies. The “final girl” is the girl who survives the killing spree, against all odds. I read up on some of the characterisations of final girls and found out they’re usually the girls who are morally “innocent”, virgins and do-gooders. I think it’s safe to say Sager’s characterisation in FINAL GIRLS bites back at that particular sexism; that being a survivor comes with the prerequisite of being a certain kind of girl. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think it’s an interesting idea to look into.
Sager’s thriller is about three final girls; Quincy, Lisa and Sam. They’re survivors of separate horrific incidents that we know more about as the novel goes on. Our protagonist Quincy has managed to pull her life together after the bloody event at Pine Cottage that led to the death of her friends. Quincy has a popular baking blog, an almost fiance, and the support of Coop, the cop who found her on the night she ran away from the Cottage covered in blood. But the death of Lisa Milner, one of the final girls that Quincy was once in touch with, causes unsettling ripples in Quincy’s life. Then there’s the arrival of Sam, the final girl who’d been hiding from the media all this time. Through most of the book Quincy struggles with the question – Why is Sam back? What does she want?
When we first meet Quincy, she’s in the middle of cupcake decorating session, a task that is all about the creating perfect details, a “facade” if you will. I personally think it’s a reflection of Quincy herself; she has survived and has spent the next decade furnishing her life with normalcy. The next 100-pages or so are slow-paced but allow the reader to get acquainted with Quincy, the aftermath of Lisa’s death and Sam, who is either an intruder or a friend. It’s easy to keep reading Sager’s simple yet effective prose, especially as it occasionally hints are darker realities and the looming end of Quincy’s model life despite being a final girl (baking cakes in an expensive apartment). The unpredictable element in the story is Sam and how she affects Quincy.
Quincy’s character development could have been better. More specifically, she could have made better decisions if she didn’t have such poor judgement skills. One thing that didn’t make sense to me was how easily Quincy invited a stranger into her own house to live with her. After going through a horrific terror incident like Pine Cottage I think it would have made more sense for her to be guarded and protective of herself and the life she had created.
The pacing of the thriller was slow at first but the second half is quicker and filled with twists and unpredictable turns. The unpredictability, the dark undercurrents of the book, and the violent moments involved me, as a reader, in asking question about the characters and their ulterior motives. It reached a point where I wasn’t sure who I trusted, if anyone at all. Riley’s ability to weave unreliability into the narrative caused me to suspect every single character involved. However, I also found it difficult to care for the characters, especially Quincy. Things for interesting towards the end, but before that I kept reading to see if Quincy would redeem herself or completely ruin everything.
Quincy’s repressed memories of the night of the Pine Cottage murders is a thread in the story that plays a major role. It’s an active element that is tested with the secondary flashback story that takes the reader to the night it all happened. In brief recollections, we get to know about Quincy before she became a final girl, her friends and the general atmosphere of that evening. This gives another perspective with which we try to understand Quincy’s character.
Overall, while the story became a little predictable for me, I think FINAL GIRLS is a thriller that readers across the board will be able to enjoy on a cozy weekend, especially the sprint towards the well-written ending. It’s safer for me to admit that I have mixed opinions about FINAL GIRLS because while I loved the ending, there were other aspects that didn’t sit well with me. So, it’s admittedly not the best thriller that I’ve read, but it’s unique because of the “final girl” element.
If you’ve read the book I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you read thrillers?
Disclaimer: The publisher Penguin UK Books sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review.