City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read: 15 - 24 June 2020
Release year: 2019
This was the first book I received after signing up for the Rare Birds Book Club and what a good choice that was. At this book club you have a choice between two books every month. You do not know exactly which books they are, but you can choose from two book descriptions. All of the books are written by female authors and feature a woman as the main protagonist. At the end of the month, you can discuss the book with the other members on their website.
City of Girls is the story of the life of Vivian Morris, starting in 1940 when she is just 19 years old. The book is written from the perspective of an elderly Vivian, who shares her life story in a letter to a girl named Angela, who wants to know what Vivian was to her father. Vivian decides to answer this question by sharing her life story in a letter of 500 pages (!), which is weird if you think about it. After being kicked out of college at the age of 19, Vivian is sent to live with her aunt Peg in New York who owns a struggling theatre. Here she gets caught up in the world of showgirls, actors and play writers. Vivian herself is a talented seamstress and starts making costumes for the plays. After being involved in a sex scandal, her new flashy life suddenly ends and she has to return home to her parents.
This basically is the first part of the book, approximately the first 300 pages. I do not particularly like Vivian in her early twenties as she is very spoiled and selfish, but the events are written so descriptively that it felt like I was transported to the 1940s. The last 200 pages are about the remainder of Vivian's life which felt a little bit rushed. After a failed engagement in her hometown, Vivian returns to New York to pick up her life again. In this part elderly Vivian also answers Angela's question 'what were you to my father', the reason why she wrote the letter in the first place. Vivian does not reveal the identity of Angela's father until page 417 (out of 495) and because of that he did not feel as important as he should have been in my opinion.
Even though I did not like Vivian in the first part of the book, I absolutely loved her when she got older. It was very refreshing to see that she did not need to get married or have children to feel happy in her life. She became a very independent woman and did not care about the people that felt the need to judge her. My favourite parts of the book were actually when elderly Vivian mocked her own behaviour at a younger age. Despite the little flaws in this book, I absolutely loved reading this.
"At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is."