2019 Reviews · Book club · historical fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: City of Girlscity of girls small

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published: June 4th 2019

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Pages: 480

Genres: Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

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.


#1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert returns with a blockbuster historical fiction tale titled, City of Girls. Full of glitz, glamour, femininity, friendship, war and life lessons, City of Girls will enthrall, from the very first page  – until the final word.

Behind the feathery shroud that adorns the front cover of City of Girls, is the breathtaking story of Vivian Morris. We first meet Vivian in the summer of 1940, as a nineteen year old girl. Vivian has been sent to live in New York with her formidable Aunt Peg, by her disappointed parents. Vivian takes her loyal sewing machine with her, and it isn’t long before she puts her skills to good use in the bright lights of New York City. Vivian gains employment with her Aunt Peg at the Lily Playhouse, as their resident seamstress. This run down theatre complex is the home to a famous troupe of showgirls, who tread the boards every night, charming audiences with their risqué routines. Vivian is soon initiated in the wild and reckless lifestyle inhabited by the showgirls at the Lily Playhouse. Immersed in a daily world that swirls with endless drinks and sexual interludes, Vivian learns a life changing lesson when she makes a serious error of judgement. This altercation has a long lasting impact on the life Vivian chooses to lead from that moment on.

City of Girls is the highly anticipated new novel from worldwide bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame. I will admit upfront that I almost gave up on this book in the early stages. The sexual experiences that the lead Vivian and her company undertake in the first half of the book didn’t appeal to me at all. However, I persisted and put my faith in Elizabeth Gilbert. City of Girls morphed into quite the dazzling read in the end!

City of Girls is a stunning period piece, it lives and breathes New York City in the 1940s. Gilbert has meticulously researched her time period and it clearly shows through all elements of this magnificent narrative. I often felt intoxicated by the sights, sounds, smells, feels and general morale depicted by the author in this novel. It was rich, delectable and I couldn’t get enough. Gilbert’s treatment of the theatre revue scene is just as good. I was entranced by this world, which although was so far away, seemed so close I could touch it while reading Gilbert’s lyrical and detailed passages.

Vivian is a charismatic lead and I really enjoyed the style of narration employed by Gilbert.  A nostalgic glance of a life well lived is utilised by the author to retell Vivian’s compelling story, as she traces back to her tumultuous youth. I liked the use of the letter style mode of storytelling as Vivian recounts her life experiences to Angela, a recipient we learn she has a connection to in the later stages of the novel. I appreciated this subtle sense of mystery.

I actually chose City of Girls as our monthly book club pick and I am so pleased I did, despite some initial reservations. The second half of this novel is where I really fell in love with this book. Gilbert magically weaves a story that depicts a strong atmosphere of war, against a study of femininity, a coming of age piece and a careful consideration of the impact of guilt. Vivian’s story is a heady and colourful one, filled with many interesting characters, as well as full experiences, that will remain with you once the final sentence has been read.

Take a chance on Elizabeth Gilbert’s new release, City of Girls. It may not entice you to begin with and you may encounter initial teething problems, but investment in this historical fiction showpiece will reap you plenty of reading rewards.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert was published on 4th June 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert, visit here.



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