#bookreview City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert published by Bloomsbury UK

Amazon blurb:

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.

My reading experience:

Firstly, thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley for my free ARC.

A dazzling, feathery, frothy coming of age tale about young Vivian and her undoing that begins in 1940.

With that said, this book is about so much more than than a young girl finding her liberty and having a bloody good time. Our lovely author takes us on several journeys where we see Vivian learning about the joy of sex, the fulfilment found in having an expert skill and being able to utilise that and the rewards of feeling valued, the juxtaposition and inbalance of love, and how to put on a hit show in a back street theatre. City of Girls is written as a memoir and is the perfect genre for a story from this era.

City of Girls is the hit show put together by Peg and Billy Buell in a run down back street theatre that changes the lives of everyone who resides or works at the Lily Playhouse.

The author brings certain characters into crystal clear full colour HD whilst leaving some milling around in the background. In this rather clever way, the characters are made into real, relatable people with a sturdy foundation of extras. The plot is magnificently simple and yet has twisty turny bits that make you shout aloud whilst you read. The author gives us a foreword about the content of the book and how as women we may well be enlightened now but that this is written from a perspective of the 1940s when things were very different – harder for younger readers to grasp perhaps, but this theme of awakening glitters and sparkles all the way through this story right to the very last word.

I am loathe to give spoilers as I have been completely enthralled by this wonderfully engaging and compelling story. The book is a tonic at a time when the future is uncertain. I can’t recommend it enough.


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