Popsugar Reading Challenge 2021 – Book 9

Prompt: a book you have seen on someone’s bookshelf

Of all the social media groups I’m in, without a doubt the book groups are the nicest. People are kind and polite and share with a generosity that is not always seen in other corners of the web. So when someone posted asking for ideas for this prompt dozens of bookish folk snapped pics of their book shelves and shared them. One of the books that appeared on several shelves was City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I have a gifted copy on my Kindle.so this was the perfect time to read it.

What it’s about?

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

What I think:

Within one chapter I was fully invested in Vivian’s story. Her voice is so clear and candid.

The book begins with Vivian, not a very elderly woman, being asked about her past relationship with a man. What was the nature of their relationship? And what exactly did they mean to each other?

To answer this, Vivian tells the story of her life. Arriving in New York to stay with her theatrical aunt, Vivian in innocent and inexperienced. Life in the theatre opens her eyes to a completely different world, as far removed from the security of middle class upbringing.

Vivian experiences a sexual awakening and becomes, in her own words, a ‘very promiscuous girl’. Drinking dancing and enjoying carefree sex, Vivian thrives on her new found freedoms, but constantly struggles with the expectations placed on her by the more conventional aspects of society.

When she find herself.embroiled in a scandalous that is going to hit the headlines and ruin her reputation, Vivian is devastated and returns home with her tail between her legs.

Vivian is a such a complex and real character. She is both innocent and experiences. Her sexual experience hides an emotional immaturity Over time she begins to understand her feelings and what she wants in her life.

Female friendship and relationships are central to this book. Despite her promiscuouity, few of Vivian’s relationships with men have much impact on her life. Her Aunt Peg and her long-term female partner, Celia the showgirl and her later business partner are all far more influential.

This book is long – nearly 500 pages – and at points the pace slows and it does feel long. I loved the atmosphere and descriptions of Vivian’s life in the theatre. There were times in the post-war section of her story that dragged a little. But overall Vivian is an engaging narrator who acknowledges her flaws and self-indulgence.

I was gifted a digital copy this book by Netgalley.

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