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City of Girls

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From the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things, a delicious novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering that you don't have to be a good girl to be a good person.

"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

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.

480 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 4, 2019

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About the author

Elizabeth Gilbert

67 books31.4k followers

Elizabeth Gilbert is an award-winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her short story collection Pilgrims was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and her novel Stern Men was a New York Times notable book. Her 2002 book The Last American Man was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

Her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, spent 57 weeks in the #1 spot on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. It has shipped over 6 million copies in the US and has been published in over thirty languages. A film adaptation of the book was released by Columbia Pictures with an all star cast: Julia Roberts as Gilbert, Javier Bardem as Felipe, James Franco as David, Billy Crudup as her ex-husband and Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas.

Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, will be available on October 1, 2013. The credit for her profile picture belongs to Jennifer Schatten.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 24,334 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,915 reviews35.3k followers
October 23, 2019
I just finish this book seconds ago - still soaking in the pool...,
I can fully understand a wide range of reviews but truthfully I absolutely loved it.
I still have tears in my eyes. I found the ending very moving....

It was often an Audiobook HOOT! But also something much deeper...

Vivian Morris is a women I’ll remember.

Review to come soon: I’m Back.....

Audiobook....narrated by Blair Brown - FABULOUS READER!!! Kudos to Blair Brown!!!

This is another book that I almost skipped because I saw low reviews by friends I respect - plus I’ve had my own up and down issues about past book written by Elizabeth Gilbert. So far- I seem to have extreme thoughts about Gilbert’s books - I either can’t stand them - or I’m ‘over-the-hill’ crazy in love with them. “A Signature For Small Things”, blew me away. Loved it!!! “Eat, Pray, Love”....not so much.

I cherish how I’m feeling from this book. I’m actually still digesting some of the essential insights.
In my thinking - Gilbert has crafted a fulfilling and important path to understanding and healing ourselves and finding peace....
She did this with dazzling storytelling- she didn’t have to write a ‘self-awareness’ - or ‘self help’ book, to have us face our humility, courage, compassion, and wisdom, either. It took the entire book for me to grow into the deeper messages.
Elizabeth Gilbert provided an opportunity for learning about ourselves. She does this by creating lead protagonist- Vivian Morris.
Maybe I’m the silly one - but for me - there was much more authentic spirituality in this book - naturally - than I experienced in Gilbert’s book called “Big Magic”.

The characters in this book live LARGE. The story itself is a huge sprawling chronicle - a life story about a lofty - supercilious - honest - and gracious character: Vivian Morris. She tells us several times that she is only good at two things: sex and sewing. NOT TRUE! I was able to see early on how gracious of a friend she could be- to both men and women.
We meet ‘the gang/ the family’.....at the Lily Playhouse...vaudeville theater in New York City.....with colorful show girls & actors. It’s a different era than today.
Besides Vivian, - we’ll meet Aunt Peg, Olive, Celia, British actress Edna Parker Watson - ( Star of the play called “City of Girls”), Uncle Billy, Marjorie, Frank, and Angela

Towards the end of the book - I was reminded of that powerful sentence I’ve heard a few times in my life....
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”.

Not a book for everyone...
Read through many positive and critical reviews. There are many of both.

Some words from critical reviewers:
Too long
Didn’t hold readers interest
Too much sex
Quirky characters
Silly and predictable
Self Indulgent
Debauchery, sex, and alcohol
Shallow fluff

Positives words from readers:
Like a tray of Champagne cocktails
Better than Harry Potter
I couldn’t put it down
All the feels
Great female characters
Champions independence
Weeping and can’t type
A beautiful story
A memorable story
Lots of sex
Lots of sex
Lots of sex
Glitz and glamour
Intoxicating by freedom & a scintillating lifestyle
Thought provoking
Life lived to the fullest
Amazing characters

For me it was full of heart, thought-provoking, funny, sad, animated with gorgeous vibrant lush language with a rich connection to acceptance, forgiveness,...and love.

PS....I really did cry while sharing about this story with Paul. Sincerely moved at the end. ....and the message I took in
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.3k followers
June 3, 2019
Gilbert’s narrator is an old woman named Vivian, looking back at herself as a naive 19-year-old who had just failed out of Vassar College. (She ranked 361 in a class of 362, surpassing only a girl who contracted polio.) Baffled by a daughter with no matrimonial or professional prospects, Vivian’s parents send her off to an eccentric aunt who owns a crumbling theater in New York. Light-years from Broadway, Aunt Peg’s Lily Playhouse offers cookie-cutter musical comedies written on the fly for working-class folk. Vivian has no interest in acting, but she adores fine clothes and she’s a whiz with a sewing machine. Always on the lookout for talent, her aunt makes her the theater’s costumer. And so what should have been a mere summer interlude became a whole life.

Unfortunately, what should have been a mere 300-page novel became a 470-page tome. The best and worst thing that can be said about “City of Girls” is that it’s perfectly pleasant, the kind of book one wouldn’t mind finding in a vacation condo during a rainy week. In exchange for a series of diverting adventures, it demands only stamina from its readers.

Not that it’s without charm. Gilbert definitely knows her way around the vintage dress shop. So many outfits are sharply described in these pages that rather than put this novel on a shelf, you should hang it in a closet. And she’s got a good ear for the arch repartee of 1940s comedy. In the best passages, her witty dialogue sparkles like diamonds in champagne.

But this is a story that takes a half-hour to travel a New York minute. And that leisurely pace pushes. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Cecelia.
223 reviews
June 13, 2019
1) Elizabeth Gilbert has an excellent publicist.
2) Have sex and be happy.
3) Nothing happens during the first 50%. Then, there is mild drama, followed by more nothingness. And, it ends on a somber note.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books889 followers
September 1, 2019
City of Girls is a genre-bending, uniquely-structured, light-hearted, deeply-profound kind of novel, whatever that means. I'm honestly still in awe of it. The first half has zero conflict and yet never fails to engage. I devoured every moment of being young and careless in 1940's New York, amid showgirls and theater personalities. This glorious fantasy is so enrapturing it doesn't matter if nothing goes wrong. In fact, I prefer it that way. Arguably, when the complications do show up, the novel peters out. Writers are constantly taught that conflict is everything, but in a way Gilbert proves the experts wrong. Perhaps, as the novel suggests of the 1940s, this is a sign of the times. When the world is conflicted enough, we prefer pleasure over drama.

When the second half takes a more serious turn, it's a little disappointing. Everything was so wonderful! Why did you have to ruin it? The answer, of course, is that real life isn't all fun and feathers. Gilbert succeeds in the grittier sections by showing us that, even in the realm of adult consequences, it's possible to move beyond mistakes, be true to yourself, and ultimately live a fabulous life.

Other than feeling a little long in places, I have no complaints. Full disclosure, I listened to the audio version which was so masterfully narrated that I have no doubt it enhanced the experience. Dancing through the streets of New York is a great distraction on the daily commute, but may struggle to demand my attention in bed after a long day. If anybody transitioned from book to audio, I'm curious to hear how the experience differed.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,126 reviews2,273 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 25, 2019
At 51% I’m done. I loved the voice and the writing but I’m growing very weary of hearing about Vivian’s sexual exploits. I loved the era and the setting. The audiobook narrator was incredible. But it wasn’t enough to save this book for me.

I’m all for women owning their sexuality but by the halfway point I’d like to see some growth and maturity. Promiscuity is not a step forward for women, it’s a step backward.
Vivian is rather a bore and this book is way too long given the subject matter.

Moving on....

I received an e-galley via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,126 reviews39.2k followers
June 13, 2020
Three joyful, glamorous time travelling to 40’s, but travel time was too long stars!!!

I really tossed around giving three to four stars, because I enjoyed the writing but not sure about the character development!

I really enjoyed some parts so much! Having fun to learn Broadway theater life and scandalous, marvelous but also nasty, controversy backstage life of the show girls!

As a narrator, I liked the old self of Vivian, she reminded me of a chatty grandma who has vivid imagination and sarcastic sense of humor. But as a young person who was good at only two things: sex and sewing!
I found her a little spoiled, immature, careless, superficial. Not only for her approach about monetary matters( yes she was coming from healthy family, raised with servants but she never understood the difference between rich and poor! She also didn’t use any effort to achieve at Vassar where too many young people on her age dream to be educated !), but also her addiction to sex and attitudes with lack of emotions, putting herself dangerous positions, taking nonsense risks for this addiction! Sometimes she even forgot that they’re in the middle of war. ( Well at least I could say if she was living in 70’s instead of 40’s and her passion profession is PR instead of tailoring, she would be a great younger version of Sex and City’s Samantha Jones!)

After she got involved in a scandal, she went back to her hometown. Then with the help of her aunt, she goes back for working for war cause! At least she starts to head on something in her life involves more noble causes.

What I really like about book is description of the life, struggles of wartime and glamorous Broadway comedy theaters era! I also liked the sarcastic and joyful tone of Vivian when she talks about her past!
It was so funny to see her worst regret is not having more sex with men! She was really one of kind! I was really about to give four stars.
But the things I disliked force me to cut points.I didn’t like Vivian’s a little narcissistic approach and seeing herself one and only star of her story. Because there is nothing she’s achieved to be star of the story. I accepted her flaws, her resistance to grow up and seize the day, enjoy life selfishly! But still I wanted to say cut the point and give us something more real about life. Well, as you can see she didn’t!

And this book is really too long. It could be edited to 300 pages and we may enjoy more fast paced, gripping story!
I was expecting too much! But still author’s writing is creative, rich, entertaining.
Maybe Eat, Pray, Love affected me so much so I was waiting for something more inspirational, emotional, heart-warming! That’s why I'm a little disappointed!
Profile Image for Umut.
355 reviews164 followers
June 6, 2019
Before I start, I'd like to mention a few things Elizabeth Gilbert wrote at the beginning of the book, which attracted me to it, and also explains the book very well. She says:
"I've longed to write a novel about promiscuous girls whose lives are not destroyed by their sexual desires" , then she introduces Vivian Morris, who's our narrator and the main character of this book.
And Gilbert says: "My goal was to write a book that would go down like a champagne cocktail- light and bright, crisp and fun."
So she did :)

This is a coming of age story of Vivian, a very likeable and vivid character. She's 19 when we start following her, a college drop out coming from a wealthy family. She moves to New York to live with her eccentric aunt Peg, who owns a theatre, and then, her adventures begin. We follow Vivian until she's very old.
I can easily say, Vivian is a character you'd want to follow, you'd want to listen to her stories because she's very energetic, sassy, free and fun.
"I promise that I will try my best in these pages not to go on and on about how much better everything was back in my day. I always hated hearing old people yammering on like this when I was young. (Nobody cares! Nobody cares about your Golden Age, you blathering goat!) And I do want to assure you: I'm aware that many things were not better in the 1940s. Underarm deodorants, air-conditioning were woefully inadequate, for instance, so everybody stank like crazy, especially in the summer, and also we had Hitler."

The book started very strong, I loved Gilbert's note, I loved Vivian right away. She was so ready to throw herself out in the world and welcome all the experiences that was thrown back at her. I think her attitude for life was a good reminder of 'life is short' and we mustn't forget to live it while we can.
Gilbert gave so much life and energy to her characters that it really impressed me so much. They were all different than each other, all flawed, but amazing. Peg, uncle Billy, Edna, and many more. It was a parade of interesting people that we got to know so well. I just could picture all of them in front of my eyes, and I wished so badly I could transfer there to meet them.
For me, the highlight of this book is definitely how real and how vivid Gilbert writes. It could be mistaken for a real memoir.
"I was long and tall, that's all there was to it. And if it sounds like I'm about to tell you the story of an ugly duckling who goes to the city and finds out that she's pretty, after all-don't worry, that is not that story. I was always pretty, Angela. What's more, I always knew it."

Another thing is the historical time Vivian was in, 1940s. It wasn't an easy period, when there was the war. Again, I felt like I was transferred to those times to New York. The amount of detail Gilbert put in her descriptions were so imaginative. The way she described the dresses, the society, the theatres, the effects of war on people, was just impressive. I loved it!

I wanted Vivian to be real so badly, I wanted her to be on TV so I could watch her telling her stories, even better, a friend so I could have coffee with her. It was also fascinating to watch her to get older and more mature. But, in any part of her life, she was interesting. I highlighted so many of her comments, and actually many more characters.

In my opinion, there's one thing that could be better in this book. Sometimes the energy went down a bit too long, some periods that were rather un-eventful took more space than it should. But, it didn't decrease my love for the book :)

But, all in all, I thought this book was fantastically written with interesting characters. Such vivid descriptions, a lot of energy, wit and wisdom. A surprise would pop out of the pages every now and then.
In some ways, it reminded me of Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but don't get me wrong here. The stories aren't even remotely similar. But, the way I wanted Vivian to be real so much reminded me how much I wanted Evelyn Hugo to be real. Because they were so well written, captivating characters.

I hope this was useful :)
Profile Image for jessica.
2,506 reviews30.9k followers
May 7, 2020
okay, first i want to say that if i sent someone a letter asking ‘what were you to my father?’ and they responded with a 450+ page answer, i would literally roll my eyes so hard, they would probably get permanently stuck.

but seriously, how in the world did elizabeth gilbert think that writing this narrative as a letter made any sense!?!? especially when its only in the last 80 pages that the MC even begins to answer the original question! i get that vivian is a very selfish and conceited character, so writing a biography about her life and making sure she is the center of attention is very on-brand for her, but im just so confused as to why a letter was the choice method of narration for the author.

regardless, i did find vivians life to be rather fascinating. this story is very evelyn hugo, where one woman looks back on her life and her years of experience are what enable her to see things more clearly. i loved being able to explore NYC in the 1940s and how the world of theatre seemed so glamourous. overall, i thought vivians story was very readable and interesting.

i think readers who enjoy a more chick-lit vibe to historical fiction and dont mind a story thats on the unnecessarily longer side of things will appreciate this, just like i did.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Beth.
24 reviews7 followers
August 6, 2019
City of Girls started as a 5 star read. 2/3 in it fell to 3 stars. By the end I settled on 2 stars.
The story is not fluid, nor does it make much sense.

In 1940's New York City theater district, the play 'City of Girls' is gaining momentum. 'City of Girls' is an off-Broadway play written and executed by a Hollywood writer once married to the Lily Playhouse's owner, Aunt Peg. Aunt Peg is a New Yorker through and through. Her 19-year-old niece Vivian, the protagonist, is living with her after failing out of Vassar College and disappointing her well-to-do parents. Fast forward to present day and you meet Vivian at the age of 80. Vivian receives a very brief letter from a woman named Angela, simply asking Vivian about the nature of the relationship between Vivian and Angela's father. This simple question asked on page 2, turns into a nearly 500 page open-letter to Angela, disclosing everything Vivian did between 1940 to present (basically dismissing Angela's question and revealing every single orgasm she has ever had.) Why? I have no clue!

It is revealed in the last 2 or 3 chapters who Angela's father actually was to Vivian and- get this- it has nothing to do with 'City of Girls' whatsoever.

I was pleased to read about the strong women depicted in this novel. Unfortunately, the authors eagerness to accuratley celebrate feminism missed the mark. The novel is named 'City of Girls', The failing Lily Playhouse Theatres hit which resurrects the company. That was written and developed by a man... A man that is intentionally called to save the day. Huh?

The first 2/3 of this novel offer a rich, descriptive look into pre- WWII New York City's theater district. I was captivated and intrigued, eagerly awaiting the finale. I was curiously predicting who Angela's mother and father could possibly be as I learned more and more about the Lily Playhouse showgirls and young love interests of Vivian's youth. They were elaborately recounted with care. So when I found out who Angela's father was, and that he had nothing to do with the letters objective, and he was weakly introduced and developed, I could not help but be sorely disappointed. Not only that, but the most developed characters we meet early on pretty much fall of the planet. Their departure was weak.

Elizabeth Gilbert gave us the most narcissistic character I've ever read. This attempt to write a progressive piece fell completely short. Many hot-button issues were narrated, but with such a desperation that it felt unnatural.
For example: Vivian loses her virginity after being set up by her showgirl friends to meet a married man who had a fetish for showgirls. He meets with one every Saturday and then pays them. Gilbert insists to the reader that it was not in fact prostitution because there's a "mutual agreement". After losing her virginity, Vivian walks away, laughing all the way back to the diner where her friends are eagerly awaiting to hear about her first sexual encounter.

Give me a break.

No privileged 19-year-old girl is going to suddenly abandon her virginity and act as if it were just another day in the life. Later, Vivian goes into great detail discussing her sexual relationship with her first love, including but not excluding in great detail, her first time receiving oral sex. Later we get to hear about her first time masturbating, oh! And the random three-way she has with her best friend and a married man. These are the issues with the book; it's not the content so much as the way Gilbert executes the storyline. None of this has anything to do with Angela's question- The question that sets the book up for the story you're about to read.

So I have to beg the question: if somebody wrote you a letter asking how you knew their father, would you tell them about how you moved to New York City a naive virgin, lost your virginity to a married man who paid you for the sex, had a three-way with your best friend and the husband of the woman you admire most at the theater, repeatedly discuss the intimate details of your sex life, divulge your scandals, go in to lengthy detail about your family and friends who never even met your father, spend hundreds of pages talking about a play your aunt and her ex-husband made, talk about your small-business ventures, only to close the letter with a couple of pages talking about how you did indeed meet their father?

If I were Angela I would have replied:

Dear Vivian,
Sorry I asked.
Don't call me, I'll call you.

If this review is confusing you and all over the place then you already have a great idea of what it was like to read this book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,065 reviews2,662 followers
February 5, 2022
Ninety five year old Vivian is telling her life story. She says she is good at two things in life and that's sex and sewing but another thing she excels at is focusing on Vivian. In the first twenty years of her life, the fact that there were other people out there, people who didn't have servants following them around, catering to their every need, never occurred to Vivian. She didn't even know she was rich, she thought everyone was as well off as her, all their monetary and other needs taken care of without a thought to how it happened. Then Vivian flunks out of her first year of Vassar because going to class didn't interest her and she is shipped off to live with her Aunt Peg, in New York City. Peg owns a falling down theater and often plays to the poor, two plays a day, everyday, and Vivian uses her sewing skills to make costumes for the plays.

Vivian also spends all her spare time with the showgirls every night, partying and having sex with men. One of her few regrets in life, at ninety five years of age, is that she didn't have even more sex with men than she had. It's 1940 and the fact that there is a war going on and that the US in getting involved in the war totally flies over Vivian's head...she's busy partying and sexing and nothing would have stopped this thoughtless way of life except she becomes part of a sex scandal that brings her NYC life to a halt. Vivian runs home in shame (although her parents think she came home because she was homesick) and spends the next year moping. Aunt Peg rescues her to have her help put on plays for those working to support the war cause in NYC and Vivvie actually begins to notice what is happening around her.

That is the first part of the book and it could have made a complete book. The parts I liked the most were the historical aspects of theater life in NYC and the part of living in NYC during WWII. We then enter the rest of Vivian's life, where she uses her sewing skills to run a bridal boutique, all the while spending many of her evenings having sex with men. See, Vivian is ahead of her time, she is the sixties sexual revolution before it ever happened and she's going to tell us about how she and her friends have always been ahead of their times. But also, Vivian is going to use one instance in her life, when she was being driven home in shame after the scandal, where a young man insulted her concerning the scandal, to detail her entire life to a relative of his, seventy five years later. She claims she is telling her life story so that this lonely, hurt man can be known for the wonderful man he really was but I see it as a way to continue keeping the focus on Vivian...it's always Vivian...Vivian is good at sex, sewing, and focusing on Vivian.

This is a long book and I kept waiting for Vivian to get to the point but she is the point. This book is about her, with part of the book focusing on the theater world and WWII, also. I could have used a lot less about Vivian but since she is narrating the story and she's the star of her world, that was not going to happen. I enjoyed much of the book and wish I could have liked Vivian better but I must say that this story is true to the personality of Vivian and maybe shouldn't have been written any other way.

Published June 4th 2019

Thank you to Riverhead Books/Penguin Publishing Group and Edelweiss for this ARC.
Profile Image for Julie .
3,998 reviews58.9k followers
January 16, 2020

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is a 2019 Riverhead publication.

This work of historical fiction spans several decades and follows the life of Vivian Morris. During the 1940’s Vivian threw away a golden opportunity at Vassar College, which prompted her parents to send her to New York to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg.

Aunt Peg owns a midtown theater and soon Vivian becomes enthralled with the thrill of live performances. She quickly strikes up a close friendship with a couple of the showgirls and from there, she embarks on a life of partying, scoring men, and falling prey to horrific scandal.

Years later, Vivian receives a letter from a woman whose father was once close to Vivian, asking what the nature of their relationship had been. In her reply letter, Vivian regales the reader with her colorful life story and through her memories, she gains more understanding of her life and herself.

I suppose that technically, this book could be categorized as an epistolary novel- although it is just the one letter, I suppose, and not a back and forth correspondence. Either way, Vivian, now well on in years, takes the reader on a long trip back down memory lane, which will eventually reveal the answer to the simple, yet complicated, question posed to her.

This is my first book by Elizabeth Gilbert. That's right- I never read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ which was a hot topic book at one time, or anything else written by this author.
But, about this book-

I had high hopes for this novel. I’ve been on a long dry spell when it comes to historical fiction and hoped this one might be a nice change of pace from the current trends in this category. I did finish the book, but it was a struggle at times.

Vivian’s character, as funny as she could be sometimes, was too over the top with her casual promiscuity. I quickly grew tired of hearing about all her one -night conquests- which were too many to count.

In fact, the entire first half of the book could have been paired down without lessening the overall impact of the story. There are emotional and poignant moments, but the story experienced some turbulence in execution, making it a bit of a bumpy ride.

The landing, however, was flat and anticlimactic for me. It wasn’t as stirring, or delightful, or profound as I had hoped it might eventually become. I would love to expound on why I feel this ambivalence towards the story, but in doing so I’d reveal too much. It wasn’t all bad, and it was enjoyable enough to make it worth my time and effort, but mostly I found it underwhelming.

3 stars

Profile Image for  Teodora .
288 reviews1,590 followers
August 17, 2019
*desperately searches for the feather boa and the good champagne glass*

Maybe I was too drunk on the sparkling water I drank from the champagne glass, but I actually got a bit lost in the story to the point when it kind of got boring. But I don't categorize it as a bad read. It was very open-minded and well-documented.

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
419 reviews432 followers
June 6, 2019
Thank you to Riverhead Books / Penguin Publishing Group for providing an advance reader copy via Edelweiss.

It's 1940 and nineteen year old Vivian Morris is a Vassar College dropout. In the summer of that year, Vivian's parents sent her packing to New York City to stay with her Aunt Peg. Peg owned a dilapidated theater company called the Lily Playhouse which churned out revues sporting former burlesque dancers transformed into showgirls, with mostly forgettable storylines. The ticket prices were cheap to adapt to the low income residents in the immediate neighborhood. The living quarters were located above the theater, its apartments often filled with down on their luck actors, actresses and dancers. Vivian was suddenly thrust into a sparkling world of dazzling, artistic people and life-changing experiences. Some themes explored are loss of virginity, sexual hunger and prowess, and same-sex relationships at a time when it was "under the radar." Vivian was given an exquisite and spacious apartment in the building, which was actually meant for Aunt Peg's flighty actor/writer husband Billy Buell. Although they never officially divorced, Billy was living the Hollywood/playboy life clear across the country. But, that was okay. Aunt Peg had her stalwart mate Olive that oversaw everything at the theater like an army sergeant.

This book lured me in from the first page with its beautiful narration by Vivian. Vivian is telling her life story to an unknown person named Angela, whom we don't get to identify until almost the end of the book. Vivian's story is told from 1940 to the present day, in epic fashion. An especially poignant and relevant time period discussed in the book is America's involvement in World War II. I was often deeply moved throughout this tome, and had a fixed vision in my head of the beautiful Vivian. The writing style was easy, flowing, and the pages turned effortlessly. I highly recommend this wonderful book for a rich, quality read.
Profile Image for Katherine.
345 reviews143 followers
July 25, 2019
Imagine writing a letter to one of your Father’s old friends, asking a question about how they knew your parent. And now imagine they write you back in the form of a nearly 500 page letter mostly detailing their vast sexual history. They finally answer your question within the final act, when your parent randomly becomes relevant to the story. That is my synopsis of City of Girls, or as I’d prefer to call it: “Weird Flex but OK: The Novel”

City of Girls has plenty of charm. I found myself becoming nostalgic for classic theater, something that normally drives me away. The city landscape is vivid and glamorous right from the start. My difficultly stemmed from the overwrought voice of the protagonist. And though in theory the feminist telling of her sexual awakening should be inspired or at least exciting, it falls flat once it quickly becomes her defining personality trait.

The story shines in its rich descriptions of costumes and clothing, but it isn’t enough to carry this bloated narcissistic dream of life in 1940’s New York City.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,198 reviews26k followers
November 29, 2019
DNF @ 230 pages
I am really sad that I didn't end up loving this one. I really thought I would love it because of all the comparisons to Evelyn Hugo and the New York setting, but this book was honestly boring me to death. Historical fiction is always a hit or miss for me, and this one was unfortunately a miss. I DNF'ed it after a little more than halfway through because I realized I just don't care, and the main character was annoying the shit out of me.

This is a story about a young girl who moves to New York in 1940 and joins the theater scene. I think this book didn't work for me because: I realized I'm not a huge fan of reading about theater. I love reading about films and movies but for some reason theater is different and it really bores me? Also this main character is so flat and one dimensional and so uninteresting and I don't want to read about her hundreds of sex encounters over and over again. All of her friends are very self-absorbed and I didn't find a single character interesting.

I just really thought I would love this story and I'm so bummed that I didn't. The only reason this is getting compared to Evelyn Hugo at all is because of the fact that it's an elderly woman recalling the story of her fascinating youth, but Evelyn Hugo is a thousand times more interesting and her character felt so genuine and real.
Profile Image for Nicole.
717 reviews1,787 followers
May 4, 2022
I didn’t enjoy Eat Pray Love, at all. I had no idea the same author wrote this book but honestly that was a good thing. I approached City of Girls with hopes of an enjoyable audiobook. And the narration was excellent. But sadly, the story wasn’t.

City of Girls might have been interesting… if I had anything to relate with. And I didn’t. My lifestyle is very different from Vivian’s and it’s good to read about people different than you… But I couldn't find one thing to connect with. Also, the whole book is about her sex life. Vivian, now 95 years old, is telling Angela, the daughter of a dear friend (and in my opinion the best relationship she had with anyone) about her life. It’s told in letter format and I didn’t mind it at all.

But there was barely a story of her life as much as tales of her sexual adventures. Which were many and she kept telling us about it and it got repetitive and frankly, boring. In retrospect, many reviews mentioned this but I didn’t read lots of reviews before starting this audio (and I can’t be picky since there aren’t many audios on overdrive I’m interested in and haven’t listened to yet).

The story dragged and tired me. The life at the theatre was interesting -kind of- as well as her last stage of life and living in New York during WWII (which saved this book from a 1-star rating). But all while listening to the audio, I rolled my eyes a lot. I really dislike vain charactesrs.

Do I recommend this book? I’m no American and the difference between her life (& lifestyle) and mine is.. vast to say the least. Many of my friends liked it so you might too. But probably not.

Profile Image for Pam Gonçalves.
Author 9 books10.4k followers
June 26, 2022
4,5 ⭐️

Pra quem amou Evelyn Hugo, recomendo conhecer Vivian Morris.
Profile Image for Sophia Judice.
57 reviews11.9k followers
August 12, 2021
City of Girls is the most captivatingly written book I've read this year. It is witty, deliberate, refreshingly wise, and a coming-of-age story in the truest sense of the phrase. Elizabeth Gilbert has a way with words. I absolutely live for a morally grey "unlikable" female protagonist, and a book about theater warmed my thespian heart. The novel made so many excellent points regarding privilege, the morality of promiscuity, and the art of human connection and female friendship, while offering keen insight into society during WWII and beyond. At times, I felt that the book could have been shorter, but once I neared the end, I understood that every detail along the way, every mistake and scandal led her to her true love and to a life filled with satisfaction. Ultimately, City of Girls is a story about growing up and finding yourself along the way, and I could not recommend it more.
Profile Image for Gwyn.
123 reviews
May 9, 2019
This book was a mishmash of 2 different stories thrown together. Three quarters of the book was Vivian experiencing New York in her late teens and early twenties pre and during WW2. The rest of the book jumped ahead 15 to 20 years where someone she had only met once re-enters her life. Then the tone and story of the book totally changed and doesn’t match the writing style in the first part of the book. The final chapter then jumps about 25 years to try to pull it all together.

The character of Vivian was a dumb woman who didn’t seem to think for herself. For her privileged up-bringing that is touted heavily, Vivian never once questions morality of what she’s doing. I expect characters in Historical Fiction to be far more interesting. I would have preferred the story of Edna or Peg over Vivian.

Oftentimes it felt like it was a bore to read the book but I was given an advanced copy and knew I needed to finish it to write a review. Parts of the book were over done and I hope the final version is edited to be more concise.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
695 reviews3,259 followers
March 13, 2019
Vivian Morris is an elderly woman recounting the days of her youth in this frolic through 1940's New York. She's a nineteen-year-old virgin when she journeys to the city to live in her Aunt Peg's crumbling theater, the Lily Playhouse. Hers is a tale of late-night carousing and rambunctious sexual exploration, followed by war, maturation, and the mundane trivialities of becoming an adult.

In the preview to this Advanced Uncorrected Proof, Gilbert writes that she wants this book to "go down like a champagne cocktail - light and bright, crisp and fun." And it nearly does, thanks to occasional bursts of humor, its lively cast of characters, and the glitz and glam of theater life. The narrative starts slow but really picks up once the characters band together to put on a boisterous play they hope will bring some desperately needed funds to the Lily. And the story of Vivian's awkward first sexual experience is the height of hilarity.

Vivian's youthful exploits include free love, beautiful showgirls and handsome men, but the book hardly delivers on its promotional promise of being an erotic, rollicking adventure. It's more sensual than erotic, and the narrative is quite somber and melancholy.

Most perplexing is the decision to tell the story through the eyes of an aged Vivian. She periodically interrupts to explain the significance of certain moments in her youth, bringing the narrative to a halt. She conveys everything through a hazy film, robbing the narrative of immediacy and putting everything at a remove. With this kind of narrator, there needs to be an arc or epiphany - not in her youth, but in her elder years - some moment that makes it worthwhile to convey the story with hindsight, but Vivian's final revalations are unsurprising.

Approach City of Girls with tempered expectations. Instead of the lyricism and gravity of The Signature of All Things or the velvet glamour of graphic dalliances and erotic encounters, anticipate a peach-hued coming-of-age with hints of memoir, a nostalgic and sentimental ode to redefining family and discovering oneself.
If I'd been more wise and attentive, I might have realized that America was eventually going to get pulled into this conflagration. [. . .] And I might have realized that some of the fun young men with whom I was cavorting every night in New York City were just the right age to be put on the front lines when America inevitably did enter this war. If I'd known then what I know now - namely: that so many of those beautiful young boys would soon be lost to the battlefields of Europe or to the infernos of the South Pacific - I would have had sex with even more of them.

If it sounds like I'm being facetious, I'm not.

I wish I'd done more of
everything with those boys.*

*Note: Quote taken from an Advanced Uncorrected Proof.

Many thanks to the kind people at Penguin Random House for providing a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Amy.
Author 25 books2,390 followers
June 23, 2019
I INHALED this book! It's an absolutely gorgeous novel about a woman figuring her life out before, during, and after WW2. It manages to be a fun, fast read, while also grappling with big messy issues like shame, grief, and how we live with our choices and mistakes. Read it!
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,226 followers
June 10, 2020
Had the pleasure of talking to Liz herself about the book: video interview

------------------VIDEO REVIEW------------------

I had so much darn fun reading this book, honestly. Going through Vivian's life was riveting, so utterly exciting! Loved it!! A review will up on my channel soon! :D

A sincere thank you to Riverhead Books for this copy of City of Girls!! I started this book off yesterday at the lake and can't wait to finish it! The setting is wonderful and I am having such a wonderful time! :)

You can find me on
Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Website
Profile Image for Danielle.
790 reviews387 followers
April 6, 2021
2021 F.A.B. Bookclub pick # I.❤️. F.A.B.

I kept picturing the main character as Blanch from The Golden Girls. This is a story of a very free spirited woman in 1940’s. Her journey from high society to a feisty New York seamstress for showgirls. It was a pretty entertaining read.
Profile Image for Stephanie ~~.
199 reviews120 followers
July 20, 2019
Well! This was a rip roaring, light, keen read! I'm so glad I didn't miss it!

Vivian Morris recounts her days living in New York City during her coming of age years. To say too much about the story would only spoil it, and I certainly don't want to do that.

This book has been criticized as having "too much sex" in it, and even being " vulgar." Pahleease! It's a fun ride during the early 1940's, and it's honest but not lewd in any way. I loved the voice of the elderly Vivian as she recounts her voyage as she journeys from innocence to experience as pertaining to sex and love.

The characters were portrayed with vibrance and umph, really beautifully written.

If you're looking for a fun summer read that is upbeat and full of shebang, look no further. This is it!
Profile Image for Brandice.
821 reviews
June 16, 2020
City of Girls was a middle-of-the-road read for me. I enjoyed the premise and the setting: Now in her 90s, Vivian Morris receives a note from Angela who has asked, what were you to my father?

Vivian shares the story of her adult life beginning in the 1940s in New York City, where she arrives to live with her Aunt Peg following her expulsion from Vassar. Peg owns and runs Lily Playhouse, a theatre perpetually on the brink of closing. Vivian meets many new people here from all walks of life — Showgirls, actors and actresses, playboys, and a staunch businesswoman. She helps out by designing costumes for the cast as sewing has always been one of her strongest skills. Her eyes are opened to a whole new lifestyle of late nights, drinking, partying, sex, and the glitz and glam. Of course, Vivian also makes mistakes and gets into a little trouble along the way. She recounts it all, mostly speaking fondly of these earlier times.

As the story progresses, Vivian details other phases of her life as she grows, over time — More romance and friendship, loss, and her fitting career. I appreciate the independence of the women highlighted in City of Girls, an uncommon way of life for much the 1940s. A primary theme of this book being to find satisfaction, whether it is traditional or unconventional.

While I did enjoy Vivian’s story, I grew weary of it — This book is lengthy and much of it irrelevant to answering the central question at hand. Vivian’s confidence was admirable but also grew incredibly repetitive. Fairly interesting yet the narrative definitely could have been shortened without detracting from the overall story.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books51.9k followers
November 20, 2019
This story hooked me from the opening line. I thought this was SO MUCH FUN, and adored the narrative voice, which is quite different from Gilbert's previous works.
Profile Image for Betsy.
75 reviews66 followers
June 8, 2019
3 stars--It's okay, but I had some issues with it.

The basic premise is that Vivian, the 89-year-old narrator, is telling her life story to someone named Angela in the form of a letter.

I did love the level of historical detail included in this (mostly) WWII-era novel. Although "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" took place a bit later, I vividly pictured the characters running around a New York that looked something like it did in that TV show.

I appreciated Vivian's sense of humor--you know she doesn't take herself too seriously when she claims, "The only two things I've ever been good at in this world are sex and sewing." No, I wasn't holding my sides or belly laughing, but I did chuckle a lot.

Through the bulk of the novel, Vivian didn't grow or change much, but I think that's what Gilbert intended. For the most part, we're supposed to take Vivian at face value. For this reason, the big leaps forward in time bothered me a bit. It's hard to tell how or why Vivian develops when big chunks of time are left out of her story.

The other really big thing that kept me from enjoying City of Girls as much as I could have is that the text itself was prepared sloppily. I was *not* reading an ARC or galley, so the English should have been nearly perfect. In my version, there were lots of stray commas that really broke up the flow of sentences. No one's perfect, but this problem was so prevalent that it had a negative impact on the reading experience.

In addition, the text was mostly written in American English, but there were UK spellings thrown in at random. Gilbert is American, and her narrator is American. I got a US edition from my US public library, so there's no logical explanation for the weird inconsistency in the text. Maybe Penguin was trying to cut corners in the editing department?

City of Girls gets a down-the-middle 3 from me because there are worse ways to spend a few hours. It's an okay beach read that won't make anyone think too hard.
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