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Book Review: City of Girls

Wow! This is week 27 of my 52 book challenge! Crazy to think I am more than half way there! And still going (relatively) strong!

If you need a refresher about my 52 book challenge, check it out here!

Now, I was super excited to read this week's book! I've only read one other book by this author, and it was a memoir about her travels through Italy, India, and Bali. So, when I found out the Liz Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, was dipping her pen into the fiction pool, I knew I was going to have to pick myself up a copy!

So, with no more ado, here is my review of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert!

City of Girls is an epistolary novel (written as a letter) and addressed to the mysterious Angela, that spans years of the narrator, Vivian's, life. The story begins in 1940, when Vivian, having been kicked out of Vassar, is sent to New York City to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg. Peg runs a small, run-down theatre called the Lily. Here, Vivian gets her first real taste of freedom.

After meeting the show girl, Celia Ray, Vivian quickly learns about New York City nightlife, drinking and partying all night.

Vivian, an avid seamstress, soon gets a job making, and fixing, costumes for the Lily.

When WWII breaks out in England, friends of Peg's Edna and Arthur Parker soon take up residence in the crumbling Lily.

Since Edna is a well-known actress, who is currently out of work, Peg decides to write a new play that stars Edna, and her idiot husband, Hearing that Edna is in town, Peg's husband, Billy, returns from Hollywood to help write and direct the play. The play, titled City of Girls, sets the Lily back lots of money due to Billy's creative vision and exorbitant spending.

The play, once it opens, is a huge success, with audiences raving about Edna's performance. Soon. Vivian begins an affair with the male lead, Anthony. When Anthony and Edna attend a party together, and Vivian hears that she likes younger men, she has a threesome with Celia Ray and Arthur.

When the story hits the papers, Vivian returns to her parents home where she falls into a depression. Soon, the US enters the war, and Peg brings Vivian back to NYC to help with USO shows being put on at the Navy Yard. Vivian enjoys being back in New York, and being back with Peg. But when news of her brother's death in a kamikaze attack reaches her, she falls into another depression. Once the war ends, Vivian decides to stay in New York, and opens a small boutique where she makes custom wedding dresses.

The story jumps ahead to Vivian meeting Frank Greeco, a man who was aboard the same ship as her brother. Soon, the two form an intimate bond, that for once, for Vivian doesn't involve sex. Here, the reader learns that the mysterious Angela is Frank's daughter, and Vivian was writing to explain how she knew Frank. The novel ends with Frank asking Vivian to make a wedding dress for Angela.

I loved Eat Pray Love, and so, had very high expectations for City of Girls. Luckily, Gilbert did not disappoint. Despite being a heftier book, it was an addicting read. Vivian's youthful energy in the first half is infectious, and her older, wiser self in the second half brings much more depth to the character. Gilbert created a world that was scandalous, glamorous, and full of life. All the characters are wonderfully fleshed out, and some full of surprises, that make you want to keep reading.

I found the dialogue appropriate for the era; Gilbert's use of slang really places the reader in NYC in the 40's. The dialogue really played an integral part in keeping the novel moving forward, which I enjoyed. The setting was perfectly developed, really placing the reader in New York during that period. Even as the novel progressed, and NYC changer, Gilbert kept the setting at the forefront.

I loved Gilbert's style. She is at times a little flowery in her language, but I think that adds to Vivian's personality. She sees the world through rose-tinted glasses.

I think she perfectly captures Vivian's voice, and is able to make her likable and detestable at the same time (Vivian tells us early and often she is not a good person). While Vivian has her flaws, she acknowledges them and tries to grows from them, especially towards the end of the novel. I found her to be a delightful narrator, full of youthful exuberance then a wisdom that comes with age.

I give City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert, an enthusiastic 5 out of 5!

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