Book Review, Fiction

City of Girls

What should you expect from this book?

Elizabeth Gilbert herself wants you to let the book “go down like a champagne cocktail — light and bright, crisp and fun”.

Not surprisingly, it might, because it is actually fun and glamorous and filled with fashion and drinking and partying. However, keep an open mind and you’ll find so much more.

The world was different in the ’40s and ’50s. And by different I mean  women’s life was different than it is today. What it was expected of a young lady was, of course, to be good and study, only then to marry and have children. That’s it. Stepping out of the norm entailed society’s and your own family’s judgement.

With this in mind, Vivian’s story is, to all accounts and purposes, scandalous. She drops out of school, moves to New York to live with her aunt, only to spend her days  talking about dresses and her nights clubbing and having sex.

The young are often irresponsible that way and more often than not, the fun ends with a mistake. The abrupt halt of childhood happens when we start taking responsibility for our actions. For some, that never comes and, for others, consequences are lifelong lasting. 

For Vivian, consequences came when her irresponsibility pushed society’s norms too far. However, shame over her actions only really stroke her when she felt judgement from a stranger. That was something I found really intriguing.  

Why do we sometimes care more about strangers’ opinions than our family’s? 

“What will the world say?” is something we’ve all heard. Caring about it is a terribly sad way to live one’s life. Or is it? Vivian made mistakes, but only learned from them when she felt ashamed. I suppose the only key here is to have the punishment fit the crime. For women, that almost never happened until now.

Another fantastic aspect of this book is the quantity of female characters: real, imperfect women. Each one of their journeys is an inspiration and a learning opportunity. 

I will not go into details, as spoilers are no fun. But you can be sure to expect diversity and drama and tension and, most of all, you will be able to let yourself be inspired by powerful women. All that will keep you invested in the story and eager for another chapter. My favorite quote and something to really think about:

When we are young, Angela, we may fall victim to the misconception that time will heal all wounds and that eventually everything will shake itself out. But as we get older, we learn this sad truth: some things can never be fixed. Some mistakes can never be put right – not by passage of time, and not by our most fervent wishes, either. In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all. After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain – yet somehow, still, we carry on.

City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert

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