City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, #65 review

Publication date : June 2019

Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

“In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all. After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain – yet somehow, still, we carry on.”

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

City of Girls is a book that many female readers will want to dive into the paper pages to live out the tale in front of their eyes like a musical playing right on the stage of the Lily Playhouse.

This book is about a girl called Vivien Morris, she moved to New York City in the 1940s to live with her Aunt Peg. Thus, her adventures as a young woman in a city with everything to offer and she with a wild spirited heart began. Of course, her adventures brought her all over the city and she met all sorts of people, men, and women.

Vivien’s hobby back home was sewing with her reliable Singer sewing machine. She brought her trusty old pal along with her to NYC. Since then, she took it upon herself to be the costume designer for the Lily Playhouse’s productions. Working with a small budget and very little materials, she outfitted the dancers, actors, and actresses in the most fashion-forward pieces with style and grace. One thing that remained constant throughout the decades in the book in which Vivien’s life played out was the fact that she loves sewing. She turned her hobby into a career to sustain herself and it grew into a business.

The book covers quite a lot about World War 2. I loved how the author wrote about the transformation of war. Readers got to see the bustling New York City in the prime at the beginning of the book. They read the anxiety and worry the people have in anticipation of war, they feel it like a worm slowly festering in the sewer, then spiraling out of the darkness. They see it happening, they read about the effects it takes on the glorious city and how families are destroyed because of it. How once- generations of thriving businesses are shut down because of the economy. Then they see them claim victory, a magnificent but brutal win at the cost of many lives. They get to see the city rebuilt itself from the dust and bullets of war. It is life. It plays right before your eyes in pages you can only read about in City of Girls. Life.

Vivien Morris is so many things. For one, she is a female living in a world where it is utterly male-dominated. She is a character that many girls will resonate with because she makes mistakes in the book when she is young and she tries to amend them. She grows from them and becomes a better woman because of her mistakes. Along the way, she meets many women who know what it is like to live in the 1940s as a woman, they lived through it and they are still living with glitz and glam. they change her view on the world and their words and actions mold Vivien into the character she transforms into at the end of the book. There are so many quotes that need to be plastered on billboards around the world. One in particular that highlights the entire book is :

“A girl must create her own opportunities.”

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls is a celebration of women (quoted from my friend who read the book before me, we both fawn over this book to no end). It is an anthem of what being female means, it doesn’t matter if the book is set in decades before the publication. The message is the same – as women, we should look out for one another instead of fighting against each other as the stories often script out when there are two female leads. We will argue, we will disagree, we will also sob and coo over the same things. At the end of the day, if you don’t stand beside your friend, then no one is going to stand with you when you’re in need of help. This book teaches me that it is always important to have a group of ladies in your life, your ride or die, friends, if you want to call them as such.

Thank you to @definitely.books for sending me a review copy of this book. You can get this book in all good bookstores now.

By elysianbooksish

The Bookish Faerie who loves to read and write, and bake too

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