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Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’d had City of Girls on preorder for some time, so on release day last week I was all over it when it arrived! My first read by Elizabeth Gilbert, and certainly not my last.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

BUG Rating: 4.5/5

Overall: Bursting with energy, humour and wisdom, this book was just awesome. I was totally absorbed by the story of Vivian’s coming of age – Vivian lays herself completely bare – nothing is left out, her confessions are raw and brutally honest. I had to keep reminding myself – Vivian is not real, this is not a memoir. What I loved most about this book was the animated, entertaining (and of course flawed) characters that surrounded Vivian. This book really touched me. It’s many different love stories and the story of what it truly means to be free.

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

Plot:

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.

‘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,’ she confides. And so Vivian sets forth her story, and that of the women around her – women who have lived as they truly are, out of step with a century that could never quite keep up with them.


The story centres around Vivian Morris, narrated through the older, somewhat wiser Vivian as she sets out to answer a letter to Angela, on who she was to her father.

Vivian recounts her youth and the many decisions, that lead her to where she is now. She is brutally honest and totally unapologetic about the life she has led – which was her journey to freedom and love in a war torn world. 

The book takes us right back to where it all began –  Vivian, a 19 year old college drop-out exiled to New York to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a run down theatre. Vivian finds herself immersed into the life of the showgirls in no time – including plenty of sex and nightlife! Until a scandal changes everything … 

The story was so vividly written, and the scene descriptions really made me feel like it was there. I felt totally connected to all the quirky, eccentric and imperfect characters. Aunt Peg and Olive were an awesome duo, who just made me love the book even more! I loved the spurts of humour and on a few occasions I found myself laughing out loud. It was more like a memoir and I had to keep reminding myself these people weren’t real.

I wasn’t so sure about the whole confession letter to Angela thing, and it wasn’t until I neared the end that I really got it, and embraced it. The book wasn’t just about “What did you mean to my father” it was about everything that made Vivian; every single decision she made and who she really was. It was a brutally honest confession, Vivian left no detail out. She had no regrets, she made of her life exactly what she wanted.

The ending was just perfect. The whole book was really beautiful, I loved every minute of this read.


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