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How I came by the book
I bought City of Girls from a bookshop in Canberra, while I was up there for a relative’s pre-wedding event. I’d been aware that the book was coming out because I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Instagram. Marie Forleo also gave the book a shout out as well and had the author on MarieTV for an interview. I’m a big fan of Maire Forleo and I obviously also enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, so I thought I’d give this one a go.
I have mixed feelings about the book. It is generally a good read and while I got through the book in a few days (I skimmed a lot) I did feel that it was longer than it needed to be. The narrator also goes into a lot of detail about intimate topics, even though she is practically telling her story to a stranger.
The novel starts in 2010, with the narrator (Vivian) writing a letter to a lady named Angela, to tell her what she, Vivian, had meant to Angela’s father. Then Vivian launches into her life story, taking us back to 1940, when she was ‘nineteen and an idiot’. There is a lot of excess in her story and I felt that some parts of it were a bit contrived; however I really enjoyed the plot twist towards the end. While the book has talked about as being a lot about sex and promiscuity, I felt the novel was more of an exploration of the mistakes people make and the strength and tenacity required to move on from those mistakes.
I enjoyed most of the characters. I didn’t like the character of Celia, Vivian’s friend or Anthony, Vivian’s boyfriend. Neither did I like Arthur much (husband of Edna). Vivian is not my favourite character either.
My favourite character is probably Aunt Peg – I really enjoyed the extra-ness and chaos she creates in her theatre house, as well as her sweetness and immense generosity. I also loved the character of Olive – she is an unsung hero in the novel. I really enjoyed Edna as well. Uncle Bill is also a great character – something about his philosophising reminded me of Oscar Wilde.
Pop Culture and Themes
As I mentioned earlier, I felt City of Girls is mainly about the mistakes that we make and the sometimes long journey to recovery, (self) forgiveness and healing.
Gilbert herself talks about the concept of ‘fallen women’ and that she wanted to write a book about how women can move on from being ‘fallen women’. I don’t really know if this is a necessary debate today, especially for Western women. While I can concur that the argument definitely applies to – for example – Middle Eastern women, I don’t think Western women generally have to worry about that today. I guess the story is relevant because it is set in the 1940s, a time people actually were restricted in their lifestyles.
While there is a lot of sex in the novel (I felt these were at times more about making a statement more than entertain), it deals just as much with themes of betrayal and healing.
I give City of Girls 7/10
If you want to get a hold of the book, you can get it here.