It would be easy to dismiss City of Girls as joyous escapism, and God knows there’s little enough of that around right now. But look more closely and what you’ll see is an eloquently persuasive treatise on the judgment and punishment of women, and a heartfelt call to reclaim female sexual agency. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” says Vivian as she looks back on her life. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Let’s hope Gilbert is right.
The Book of Science and Antiquities
"It would be a crime to give away anything more, but the end of this beautiful novel made me cry. Jones writes with intelligence and a lively wit, but there’s more — a warmth that forces you to care about these people as if you had met them...."
— The Times
3 out of 5
I freaking adored this book. Its heroine, Vivian Morris, will absolutely steal your heart and probably do a good job of breaking it, too. Set in New York, mostly in the 1940s, it features showgirls and actresses and ingenues. Oh my!
As might be expected, the author of the international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love has written a brave-hearted story of a woman’s sentimental education which is lashed with a salty wisdom and realism. ‘People have a certain nature, and that’s just how it goes’. If it doesn’t quite pack a defining emotional punch, it is gripping and enormous fun.
Coming-of-age stories which centre on female protagonists are still a relatively rare thing, and a celebrated treat. With City of Girls, Gilbert adds a valuable contribution to the genre – and shows that she’s as gifted a novelist, as she is a memoirist.
Elizabeth Gilbert is queen of the journey-of-self-discovery memoir, having penned the ludicrously successful 2006 Eat Pray Love (13 million copies sold worldwide, film adaptation starring Julia Roberts). If soul-searching isn’t your sort of thing though, don’t be put off by her third novel. City of Girls may also be an ode to self-love and self-discovery — through the haze of Forties New York rather than Noughties Bali — but it is a rollicking, beautifully rendered ride of glitter and fun... Gilbert has a knack for storytelling and her plot doesn’t so much twist as twirl, high-kicking all the way — which diverts from the irritating conceit that frames the story... This is a rambunctious anthem to living a life joyous and satisfyingly full — and that deserves an ovation.
Since the 2006 publication of her post-divorce memoir Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has become something of a guru, instructing her legions of fans, via social media, speaking tours and non-fiction books, on how to live with joy, love and creativity. City of Girls, her third novel, has emerged from what Gilbert calls a “tough time”. In 2016 she left her husband (of Eat Pray Love fame — they met in Bali, she later wrote a book about marriage called Committed) because she had fallen in love with her best friend, Rayya Elias, who had been diagnosed with cancer; Elias died 2018. You would expect something dark to come from such cataclysmic events. Gilbert, however, says City of Girls is “the happiest, most cheerful, sexiest, most fun book that I’ve ever written”. This seems both hopeful and a bit odd... Indeed, at times there is almost a sense of the author, fingers in ears, crying “la-la-la I can’t hear you” at anything tricky. The passion, pain, sex, loss and sadness of Vivian’s long life are firmly told rather than felt, and consequently the dangerous moments feel quite comfy and the love feels a bit abstract... Gilbert’s second novel, The Signature of All Things, about a 19th-century botanist, was shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Prize, and her literary talents do sometimes shine through... City of Girls will be a hit. Many readers will adore its bolstering message of hope. Curmudgeons like me, who feel that fun may not be enough, could be less sold.