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City of Girls

I recently finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s highly anticipated new novel, City of Girls, and I’m still swooning over it. This book captured my attention and heart from the get-go, and within mere pages I was convinced that this was going to be my book of the year for 2019. And I believe that it will not be knocked from this perch, despite still being July!

In the way that Boy Swallows Universe captivated me last year, City of Girls had me hook, line and sinker. I read well past my bedtime every night, feeling faintly perturbed that the more I read, the less I had left to enjoy.

The novel centres around the most fabulous character, Vivian Morris – a 1940s upperclass, privileged, clueless and spoilt young woman who has dropped out of university, disappointed her family and been shipped off to New York to live with her aunt Peg, in her dilapidated theatre, the Lily Playhouse. In New York she blossoms, experiencing freedom, friendship, desire, sex and drama.

It is written as a re-telling of this time in her life at 95-years old, when a woman, Angela, contacts Vivian to ask her exactly what type of relationship she had had with her father; she seeks the truth after always wondering. This works beautifully, and we hear about Vivian’s life in detail as she shares the story of meeting Angela’s dad and all that transpired before and after.

From very early on, this fabulous book shares zinger one-liners, one after another. I can’t keep track of how many times I wanted to commit these to memory, but alas, my memory is not good enough! An early favourite just pages in, when Vivian is on her journey to New York, was:

My prettiness, to be sure, is why a handsome man in the diner car of the Empire State Express was staring at me as I sipped my malted milk and ate my pears in syrup. Finally he came over and asked if he could light my cigarette for me. I agreed, and he sat down and commenced flirting. I was thrilled by the attention but didn’t know how to flirt back. So I responded to his advances by staring out the window and pretending to be deep in thought. I frowned slightly, hoping to look serious and dramatic, although I probably just looked nearsighted and confused.

This scene would have been even more awkward than it sounds, except that eventually I got distracted by my own reflection in the train window, and that kept me busy for a long while… it turns out that even this handsome stranger was not nearly as interesting as the shape of my own eyebrows. It’s not only that I was interested in how well I’d groomed them – though I was absolutely riveted by that subject – but it just so happens that I was trying that summer to learn how to raise one eyebrow at a time, like Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind. Practicing this effect took focus, as I’m sure you can imagine. So you can see how the time just flew by, as I had lost track of myself in my reflection.

The next time I looked up, we had pulled in to Grand Central Station already, and my new life was about to begin, and the handsome man was long gone.

I have no doubt in my mind that this novel will be made in to a film – I kept thinking about how fabulous it could be, but couldn’t decide which actors would play the incredible characters.

I urge you to read this, buy it as a gift for your book-loving friends, and – please – let me know if you can decide who should play Vivian, Edna, Celia, Peg, Billy and the full cast of this utterly delightful book.

Reviewed by Celeste