Reviewed by Jody Uy
CITY OF GIRLS
By Elizabeth Gilbert
480 pages. Riverhead Books.
City of Girls is a book that’s so packed that I am at a loss of where to start (hence this introduction).
Best known for her previous work Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert gifts us with a new story that’s filled to the brim with unbridled laughter, vivid color, silent tears, and of course, girls. It’s a lengthy and hefty read that can be slightly intimidating for those not used to longer novels. The reason for its length, however, becomes apparent and understandable as you settle into a comfy chair and begin flipping through its pages.
The story is set in the 1940s and follows the life of one Vivian Morris, who has just been kicked out of college. Because of her so-called ‘disgrace’, she is subsequently shunned to New York to live with her eccentric aunt. Driven largely by its setting, the story revolves around the life that Vivian opens herself to as a part of the theater her aunt runs in the bustling city. The motley crew that become part of her daily life are just the people she has always dreamed of meeting and being around. She thrusts herself into the glitz and glamour of the new world she enters—getting horribly smashed, pushing her creativity to its limits, and loving all sorts of people. She lives her life unhinged the way she wants to, relishing in all the soaring and starry successes but also suffering the crushing defeats against the backdrop of show business and a brewing war.
A much older Vivian narrates the story for us and guides us through each stage of her life in clear and striking detail. Descriptions color her retelling, bringing each person and place to life like in a theater production. Characters are so well distinguished from each other and practically pop off the page with their perks and personalities. There are characters that make you laugh out loud, characters to love to bits, and characters to scorn all the way to hell. They don’t remain static either—you might love one person in this chapter, but hate him/her in the next or vice versa.
Gilbert is skillful in her telling of Vivian’s story, bringing readers along for a ride of great highs and low lows. While the book only really took off for me around a third of the way through, I found it hard to put down by the midway point and just kept going until the end. Apart from the characters that brought the book to life, I greatly appreciated the different topics Gilbert touches upon. In each of her previous books, she has strived to talk about different issues that mean something to her and are highly relevant today.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly one thing the novel tries to tell us, as it touches and explores many dimensions of humanity, but it is honest and revealing about many things we would ordinarily sweep under the rug. She talks about desire, particularly female desire and how women have been taught to be ashamed of it.
Anyway, at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.
Various shades of desire are painted across the book, and into a time and place very different from our own. We’re introduced to a society where the word ‘feminism’ isn’t yet a staple, but Gilbert is able to celebrate women all the same.
Reading City of Girls felt a lot like watching a TV series. Characters were so alive and the story unfolded easily and colorfully as if on screen thanks to Gilbert’s narration. There were undertones of almost everything that’s important and relevant to society today, especially to women. It’s a coming-of-age story that would resonate well with girls emerging into the world, though would require a bit of patience as it is a long read.
I have always appreciated books that are able to fully immerse its readers into a whole new life. City of Girls allowed me to explore the city of New York through the voices of its characters and showed me what it means to truly be alive.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online. Get a copy here.
Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]