City of Girls, penned by Elizabeth Gilbert, is a wholly satisfying novel that encapsulates the stories of women who set themselves apart in society by way of exercising their individuality and ambition.
When 19 year old Vivian Morris gets sent to New York City to live with her aunt, she is enveloped by the culture of the land and begins to discover herself anew. At her Aunt Peg’s theatre company, young Vivvie realizes that her skills are much required and she fills the role of costume designer. But as this spirited woman gives in to her desires, she finds herself mired in scandal.
Try as I might, I couldn’t think of another novel with a better representation of women, the need for them to be unapologetic about their passions, and their ability to be everything other than mere labels or categories. Gilbert’s intimate writing style stands out in this mesmerizing narrative about city life, lust, show biz, war and the constant nature of change.
Written in the form of a letter recounting the events of Vivian’s life, City of Girls features characters who are as refreshingly realistic as the conflicts they face. There is Anthony Roccella who enters the stage as a handsome, cocky actor, but doesn’t really play a lasting role in the grand scheme of things. Aunt Peg is depicted as the deviant whose calm demeanor and encouragement gave Vivian a direction in life. Arthur Watson’s clumsy and “good for nothing” characterization does add some humor to the play that is staged, but it would’ve been a bit more convincing if he hadn’t been shown as a total dolt.
More than a majority of the book is about Vivian in her 20s. And so, those scenes were full of frolic and fast paced scenarios. The third last section of the book goes through the next 60 or so years of her life. It may seem rushed, but the author pays attention to the necessary milestones and so, I didn’t have a problem with it. The only thing I wish is that we had gotten a scene with Nathan. It would’ve helped form a picture of his bond with Vivian and Marjorie. The following are a couple of aspects of the novel that earned major brownie points:
- The fact that it can be fun and entertaining, while also exploring serious themes.
- An awe-inducing portrayal of 1940s NYC.
- A series of female characters who build each other up and are successful in their own domains.
- There is a play being staged and we get to read some parts of it (It is a hoot!).
- Vivian doesn’t play the blame game, but rises to the occasion and learns from her mistakes.
- A touching glance at the impact of WW2.
There is so much more about the book that I would like to address, but for the sake of keeping this review spoiler free, I’m going to refrain from doing that. All I’m going to say is that this one’s definitely worth reading. So give it a try!
★ ★ ★ ★.25
Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.