CITY OF GIRLS - by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published: June 2019 - Bloomsbury.
Genre: Adult / romance / historical fiction / drama.
Pages: 470.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Substance abuse / mild violence / explicit sexual content.  
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Jonathan Ball Publishers for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. All thoughts are my own. 

It is the summer of 1940. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York with her suitcase and sewing machine, exiled by her despairing parents. Although her quicksilver talents with a needle and commitment to mastering the perfect hair roll have been deemed insufficient for her to pass into her sophomore year of Vassar, she soon finds gainful employment as the self-appointed seamstress at the Lily Playhouse, her unconventional Aunt Peg's charmingly disreputable Manhattan revue theatre. There, Vivian quickly becomes the toast of the showgirls, transforming the trash and tinsel only fit for the cheap seats into creations for goddesses.

Exile in New York is no exile at all: here in this strange wartime city of girls, Vivian and her girlfriends mean to drink the heady highball of life itself to the last drop. And when the legendary English actress Edna Watson comes to the Lily to star in the company's most ambitious show ever, Vivian is entranced by the magic that follows in her wake. But there are hard lessons to be learned, and bitterly regrettable mistakes to be made. Vivian learns that to live the life she wants, she must live many lives, ceaselessly and ingeniously making them new.

This is the latest novel from critically acclaimed author Elizabeth Gilbert, with a movie adaption already in the works, and glowing reviews across social media circling its release date. I was so intimidated to read it.

Having never read Gilbert’s books before, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned the first page. But almost instantly I understood the hype. Her writing is breathtaking: profound, intricate, and sparkling with raw insights. and while initially I found her descriptions a little tedious, I eventually lost myself in the vivid images she paints and in the world so thoughtfully brought to life. I think that part of the reason why my opinion changed was because I changed my reading habits, which brings me to: if you want to become immersed in this story and appreciate its brilliance, I don’t recommend picking the book up and just putting it back down a few minutes later. Dedicate a substantial amount of time for reading it and then read without distractions. It’s a layered story, with a lot of a detail, and I think you need time to get properly immersed in it. I enjoyed the book so much more when I read continuously.

The story is an explosion of life, love, loss, and everything in between. We follow Vivian as she moves to stay with her aunt and her aunt’s theatre company in 1940’s Manhattan (the city is a character of its own, to be honest), and then we watch her explore everything and everyone the city has to offer. The culture evolves, a World War happens, friends and lovers come and go, and Vivian learns lessons through it all. It’s a riot of a young woman’s experiences, and beautifully told. The dialogue’s witty. The pace is perfect. The story is endlessly entertaining and intriguing. There’s glamour, scandal, and very real pain. Overall, the book is a sublime piece of historical fiction.

"The field of honour is a painful field...(It) is not a place where children can play. Children don't have any honour, you see, and they aren't expected to, because it's too difficult for them. It's too painful. But to become an adult, one must step into the field of honour. Everything will be expected of you now. You will need to be vigilant in your principles. Sacrifices will be demanded. You will be judged. If you make mistakes, you must account for them. There will be instances when you must cast aside your impulses and take a higher stance than another person - a person without honour - might take. Such an instance may hurt, but that's why honour is a painful field.”

The characters are so compelling. Their personalities are starkly different, which makes for some delicious tension, and they’re all colourful and vivid. I loved watching their interactions and dialogue. While there’s no one I particularly liked, each person captivated and interested me in their own way. One thing I especially enjoyed was watching the character development (and relationship developments) over the course of the story. The characters are as complicated and dynamic as their landscape, which adds another dimension to the narrative.

City of Girls is an irresistible treat of a story. Sweet and bitter in all the right places, glittering with glamour and heartache and adventure, and superbly written.  

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