City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This generous novel is not for fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Rather, it is for readers that want to be taken on a glorious, fictitious adventure through the 1940s and beyond. Set in New York, the narrative focuses on Vivian Morris’s life and her inability to conform to societal expectations. In desperation, her conservative parents send her as a nineteen-year-old to the Big Apple to live with the family renegade, Aunt Peg, who owns a charming but disreputable Manhattan revue theatre, the Lily Playhouse. Once there, Vivian quickly creates – for herself! – the role of theatre seamstress and becomes indispensable to Aunt Peg and the revue’s showgirls.
The lives of the women that reside and work in the theatre are applauded, not judged, in this novel. Gilbert said, ‘I have wanted to write a novel about women who have a lot of sex, and who like it, and whose lives aren’t destroyed by it.’ This philosophy generates delicious reading. Of course, the central female characters feel anger at the exploitation and hypocrisy faced by women, but they don’t allow this to hinder their lifestyle. They choose instead to adopt the jubilance and freedom that comes with living and being part of a collective. There is so much joy to be found in this novel as it explores the central characters’ concepts of humanity and community, and, as they age, the changing landscape and politics that form a backdrop to their lives. The effect is an adventure story that captures a kaleidoscope of colour and courage.
Gilbert’s enchanting City of Girls is an epic novel that will delight readers of Meg Wolitzer, Maria Semple and our own Liane Moriarty. It is the perfect novel with which to escape our winter blues. I truly enjoyed every page of this wondrous book.