Coming of Age: 95 years later
To me, this is the definition of what ‘summer read’ should be. I found this title to be utterly charming, compelling and light, yet had enough character development to keep me thinking about it after I finished the last page.
In the 1940s, 19yr old Vivian is kicked out of school and sent to live in New York with her eccentric Aunt Peg, who owns her very own theatre and is also in possession of one very wandering husband. Vivian falls in love with New York City and the theatre, but falls into an even deeper affair with the lifestyle surrounding her. Bright lights, showgirls and more booze than a Binnys beverage depot rotate in and out of Vivian’s life, up until a scandal threatens everything she knows and sets in motion a change that makes her re-evaluate what is important to her and who she is as a woman.
I absolutely adored Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing in this novel, which to me, was eons more capable and interesting than Eat, Pray Love (the only other work of her’s I’ve read). Gilbert’s dialogue is the standout here, as well as her mastery of developing the character of a woman before her time. The wit is sharp but also period accurate. Everything reads like a line from an old Katherine Hepburn movie, which kept me turning pages until I couldn’t stay awake.
“You don’t get worried?” Celia pressed on. “There’s gotta be a lot of young dishes out there who want to put the moves on him.”
“I dont worry about dishes, my dear. Dishes break.”
“Show me you can smile, baby” a brave man once called out to her across the dance floor.
“Show me you’ve got a yacht.” Celia said under her breath, and turned away to be bored in another direction.
Gilbert’s characterization is also at top form. As soon as one eccentric character is dispatched of, another interesting one takes their place, so the plot and character development of Vivian always feels rich and varied. Vivian read like a real person telling their story, dipping in and out of tenses to emphasize certain parts of the story. I loved her and her female counterparts. The relationship between Edna and Vivian was the standout to me, and I want to see this portrayed on the big screen so badly.
The only criticism I would give this is that it’s quite a long book at 470 pages, but I couldn’t really find characters or scenes that I would wholly cut just to knock it down a bit. Everything served it’s purpose and while it is a little long, it still was incredibly compelling and poignant to me. It made me think a lot about my own independence and feminism, and I absolutely loved that aspect of Vivian coming into her own.
Some people are complaining abut the sexual element to this novel. I don’t know why that’s an issue. It’s not like this is a romance novel where sex acts are described for pages on pages (which is also fine by me). Vivian sleeps with several men but it’s entirely in line for her character in her time period. It’s didn’t read explicit or derogatory to me at any point.
I would give this a solid 4.5 stars. I was visualizing the entire book as I read it, and I found the writing to be witty and fun and honestly, isn’t that what you want from a book? Looking forward to her next work.
Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Three Descriptors: Banter-filled, moving, feminist
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