...a funny, bittersweet, moving coming-of-age story ... There is so much to love in City of Girls. Vivian’s voice is strong and leaves you yearning for more time with her. Her love of sex is unapologetic, and the novel explores female desire in a refreshingly radical way ... Gilbert revels in bringing to life the world of New York City theatre in the Forties, with Vivian’s love of fashion making for vivid descriptions of everyone’s outfits and costumes ... There’s something slightly reminiscent of Forrest Gump in Vivian’s tale, in that you truly get to know a character when you see them through several decades ... Women grow old together in more ways than one, and the novel does a wonderful job at encapsulating the many, many ways in which people love each other ... 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.
Vivian’s arrival at a self-knowing self-sufficiency doesn’t have quite the oomph of a heroine throwing herself under a train (Or, for that matter, of a heroine marrying Mr. Darcy.) ... Paradoxically, this open-endedness, this refusal of received literary templates, is what makes City of Girls worth reading. It’s not a simple-minded polemic about sexual freedom and not an operatic downer; rather, it’s the story of a conflicted, solitary woman who’s made an independent life as best she can. If the usual narrative shapes don’t fit her experience—and they don’t fit most lives—neither she nor her creator seems to be worrying about it.
Vivian, who begins the novel as a naïve, silly 19-year-old and ends it a slightly wiser octogenarian, is a blank, a TV turned to static—fuzzy, mildly distracting, and ultimately an annoyance. Why an accomplished novelist like Gilbert would so blithely expose the hole where her protagonist’s personality ought to be, I don’t know. But Vivian is dull, and, what’s worse, there is nothing intriguing about her dullness ... Vivian is all feathers and glitter—a sparkly story stitched onto a formless narrative garment that forgets all the lessons Gilbert has learned (and imparted) about the so-called plight of single, sexually voracious women ... [The book offers] a glimpse into the inner workings of the mid-century New York theater world that is as engaging as all the sequined gowns might suggest. But City of Girls then skips willy-nilly through the rest of Vivian’s life, compressing decades into sentences and lingering on like a comatose patient without a living will. She has sex, makes friends, sews a bit, walks the city, and remains shut off to her own interiority all the while ... The problem here is that Gilbert writes as if having a ton of sex...is a replacement for a personality ... This novel is simply an idea walking around pretending to be a fleshed-out character study ... This sex is as meaningless for the reader as it is for Vivian.
In the city of City of Girls, girls are safe, free to express themselves and celebrate everything girly ... Gilbert spares her heroine anything resembling trauma ... [there is an] almost forceful generosity Gilbert shows her characters as they descend into tragedy. I won’t spoil the dramatic fulcrum of the plot. But I will say that in the aftermath of both Vivian’s 'mistake' and the war, the characters are, to a man, forgiven and humanized. For those new to Gilbert’s work, some of the most dramatic moments in the novel may feel overly mechanistic. Is Vivian’s faux pas fully motivated? Likewise, is the pathos of the late-in-life love relationship convincing, or does it feel more like an idea grafted into the story to prove the Gilbert ethos that love is good even when unconventional? Still, the lush prose and firm belief in love that suffuses City of Girls will be a cool place to hide out as we enter a heated summer season of contentious presidential politics.
...an uneven yet decadently told tale about being a woman in a time when there was only one acceptable way to behave ... the narration falters ... As the novel speeds up, allowing years of Vivian’s life to flash by, the story-telling can’t keep up with the emotional weight it’s meant to carry. By fleshing out the journey of Vivian’s life, Gilbert distracts from the strength of the coming-of-age story and the descriptive power of her prose when she lingers on a moment.
This is a work of historical fiction, and Gilbert’s prose, while not immaculate, zings with the mood of the era. In fact, like Gilbert’s previous novel...it’s so true to life in places – including real historical figures in the story – that it occasionally feels like pastiche. But Gilbert is nothing if not emotionally intuitive, and while City of Girls is unquestionably a sexy, glamorous romp, its similarities with vaudeville end there. The plot bristles with moral intent ... Gilbert has long since severed her bond with shame – and thank goodness. In other hands, this novel could have had all the adventure and enjoyment, but none of the depth; instead she makes it into a glorious, multilayered, emotionally astute celebration of womanhood. 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.
City of Girls, Gilbert's latest novel, has the faint whiff of the expected ... Still, Gilbert pulls off a breezy, entertaining read — and really, something better: a lively, effervescent, and sexy portrait of a woman living in a golden time. We just have to get past the somewhat ponderous, overly familiar framing device ... Like maraschino cherries in a Manhattan, Gilbert drops in sharp descriptions throughout the story ... Passion, Gilbert never tires of informing us, that's the stuff of life.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel is in the form of a largely unapologetic, occasionally smug and rather lengthy letter from Vivian Morris to her beloved friend’s curious daughter, Angela Grecco. Angela’s query, sent in 2010 — 'Might [you] now feel comfortable telling me what you were to my father?' — affords Vivian an opportunity to recount her life of adventures in Manhattan ... Vivian’s devil-may-care disposition can be quite charming, but readers may feel a lack of hardship in this narrator’s life, and with it a lack of conflict and urgency. When she finally answers Angela’s question, Vivian assures Angela that although she misses Frank Grecco, 'I’ve done just fine in my life,' and she is 'embarrassingly healthy' in her 'ripe old age.' This is indeed the case, and overall it makes Gilbert’s latest work a joyous and spirited read.
... a sometimes maddening, something frothy, and ultimately a punch-to-the-heart reminiscence ... it’s hard to avoid growing impatient with the way Gilbert parcels out hints about Angela’s father; it comes to feel as though the best part of the story is waiting in the wings, behind a heavy velvet curtain we simply cannot budge. But the wait is not without its delights. Gilbert gives us a heady Valentine to a changing New York City ... the whole tone and texture of the novel dramatically change, becoming a more moving, haunting, and absolutely profound meditation on love, loss, friendship, and all the extraordinary ways people manage to live their lives ... as deliciously refreshing as a fizzy summer drink, but truly, in its second half, it’s also more like fine wine, thoughtfully crafted to be savored for its benefits.
Fans of Jennifer Egan’s last novel, Manhattan Beach, will recognize the same setting and time period, though the tone here is humorous rather than noirish ... 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's] got a good ear for the arch repartee of 1940s comedy. In the best passages, her witty dialogue sparkles like diamonds in champagne ... a story that takes a half-hour to travel a New York minute. And that leisurely pace pushes hard against the novel’s form ... the issue of female pleasure becomes the novel’s central, surprisingly pleasureless theme...never infuses the novel with much erotic energy. Vivian might as well be telling us how much she enjoys bowling ... Novels so rarely get better that I was shocked to discover that the ending of City of Girls is genuinely moving...it’s a delight to see Gilbert finally invest these characters with some real emotional heft and complexity.
City does bubble and fizz, a sort of Drink, Dance, Flirt set amid the glamorous greasepainted swirl of 1940s New York’s theater-world bohemia ... Girls takes a few darker turns as [the protagonist] stumbles toward adulthood, though Gilbert stays true to her pledge that she won’t let her protagonist’s sexuality be her downfall, like so many literary heroines before her. That may be the most radical thing about a novel that otherwise revels in the old-fashioned pleasures of storytelling—the right to fall down rabbit holes, and still find your own wonderland.
City of Girls is another meditation on that theme, a coming-of-age tale arrayed across a woman’s life that carries more of its creator’s own boldness than one might expect for a novel set 80 years in the past ... City of Girls is a testament to Gilbert's restless curiosity. She spent years researching the artistic scene of the city in the 1940s ... Their effect on the book is clear ... For anyone familiar with the lightness and the buoyancy of Gilbert’s own voice, the clunkiness of the period vernacular becomes a barrier to investing in the community at the heart of the novel ... Because Gilbert has a bewitching voice that comes through even when she is trying to mask it, though, City of Girls remains a vibrant novel about a woman balancing her desires with the age in which she lives.
Gilbert unfurls the premiere of the play in rapturous, breathless chapters that, in a tour de force of literary mimicry, are punctuated with reviews by Brooks Atkinson from The New York Times and Walter Winchell for the now-defunct New York Daily Mirror ... For fans of Gilbert’s best-known work, Eat, Pray, Love, there are no concrete similarities with her juggernaut memoir. Yet City of Girls embraces some of the same themes ... City of Girls is an unbeatable beach read, loaded with humor and insight.
Reading City of Girls is pure bliss, thanks to its spirited characters, crackling dialogue, rollicking yet affecting story lines, genuinely erotic scenes, and sexual intelligence, suspense, and incisive truths. Gilbert’s beguiling blend of comedy and gravitas brings to mind other smart, funny, nimble, and vital novels about early- or mid-twentieth-century women swimming against the tide.
Though slow at times, City of Girls, the latest novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, is an engrossing read...narrated by the elderly Vivian Morris in a voice so strong that I immediately felt as though she was addressing me as much as the Angela to whom she is actually writing ... Young Vivian’s voice is honest, upfront, and expressive in elucidating her immature, selfish desires and ambitions, all conveyed with a witty self-deprecation which makes her likable ... The dialogue is snappy and fun ... Slick turns of phrase abound, complemented by snappy, playful back-and-forth between showgirls, homeless-but-important actors, and the seedy men they love ... despite all the delicious language, the middle gets a little stuffy. While I gobbled up each and every word, I was nonetheless conscious of the slow-turning plot ... a slow romp but well worth the time.
... the Platonic ideal of a summer book. You don’t read it so much as sink luxuriously into it, like you’re diving into a clean and icy cold swimming pool on a hot day. Turning its pages, you can almost smell the warm cement sidewalks and the chlorine ... Gilbert’s prose has an inject-it-into-my-veins immediacy: It’s not so lyrical that it calls attention to itself, but the rhythm of each sentence is so precise that you absorb it before you even realize what’s happening. And Vivian is a fantastic narrator, self-aware and funny and just cynical enough ... Vivian’s nostalgia suffuses City of Girls and is what gives it its joyous energy. This book is a pure and uncomplicated pleasure to read, and it begs to be guzzled down like chilled rosé, sweet and summery and just a little intoxicating.
... delicious ... an eloquent and unashamed portrait of giddy young female hedonism ... Not all of the girls’ decisions are sensible or even safe; Gilbert doesn’t pretend that every hedonistic act is a good idea. But crucially, Vivian and Celia are not destroyed by their sexual adventures ... Gilbert has said that, in these troubled political times, she wanted to write a book 'that would go down like a champagne cocktail'. And that’s just what she’s done. City of Girls is enormously entertaining from beginning to end, with dialogue that sparkles and snaps with the vitality and sexual energy of a 1930s pre-code movie ... his frothy delight delivers a real kick beneath the bubbles, and this is what makes City of Girls so effective. Just when you think you’re simply reading a fun book about 1940s Broadway life, Gilbert hits you with an emotional depth charge, all the more powerful for being wrapped up in spangles and greasepaint ... Frivolous and profound in equal measure, this humane and remarkably generous book is an antidote to that shame.
If City of Girls were a cocktail, it would be the kind with a maraschino cherry, a purple umbrella and bubbles floating to the top of the glass ... fluffy but delightful ... Elizabeth Gilbert’s third novel starts off wobbly, in part because the young Vivian has the personality of a spaniel eager for attention, and in part because of the overuse of this framing device ... As Vivian bounces into the liberating, chaotic world of The Lily Playhouse, Gilbert finds her touch ... There are grim notes in this golden picaresque of young women discovering their sexual selves, and Gilbert doesn’t underplay the creepiness that the pleasure seekers often face. She’s fabulous at catching the absurdity of 'romping and rampaging', but other erotic episodes come off as grindingly earnest ... has enough oomph and espièglerie, enough New York nostalgia, to keep this show on the road.
Gilbert’s attention to period detail and idiom is just as sharp here as in her previous novel, and the dialogue reads like the script of a sassy screwball comedy. But for all its verve and sparkle, what appears to be a novel about sexual awakening turns out to be a warm and wise meditation on friendship, on the choices women make, and on the way that multifaceted relationships and sexuality are far from being modern phenomena.
Though Vivian drinks like a fish and carouses like a sailor, though she falls in love and gets caught up in a scandal, the consequences of her behavior don’t ever add up to more than temporary discouragements. This is fine, of course (who says wanton women should reap what they sow?), but as Vivian spins weightlessly through the second half of the book, her devil-may-care persona begins to feel slightly more vapid than vivid. We don’t get the sense that she’s wiser or more hardened by having endured ... Vivian Morris keeps moving, and the things that happen to her are fascinating to watch. This, of course, keeps the pages turning, and City of Girls makes delightful summer reading. It’s a perfect muzzy-headed by-the-pool book, full of spectacle and glitz and reflected bygone glamour. Not until now has Gilbert aimed to write a book that was strictly fun; with this one, she succeeds beautifully.
Gilbert, through the now-mature Vivian’s narration, takes pains to delineate the difference between the legitimate shame and remorse Vivian feels for the way she has hurt others, while condemning the humiliating double standard to which women are subjected ... It’s interesting to consider the theme of spiritual growth as an individual path of self-reflection and accountability, rather than following socially sanctioned rules. It’s a thread that runs through Gilbert’s writing and is part of what made Eat, Pray, Love so wildly popular. While I am all for this message, fiction generally works best when it isn’t overly message-driven, as Gilbert’s novel is at times ... The occasional sense of being lectured to was off-putting at times, and isn’t helped by the conceit that mature Vivian is recounting her story to a reader to whom she wishes to impart wisdom, a person whose relationship to Vivian is revealed late in the book ... captures a world and will keep readers turning pages to see what’s in store for young Vivian, not to mention exploring the importance both of owning our mistakes and forgiving ourselves as well as others.
Told from the point of view of an aging Vivian, as she explains the highs and lows and twists and turns of her life to a woman named Angela, City of Girls creates an intoxicating portrait of New York in the 1940s, when it was a city of showgirls and theatre, when war was rumbling and then engulfing the country, when a little luck and a little real estate could turn a wayward life exactly right. The pages of Gilbert’s novel fly by, and though Vivian’s story encompasses a generous lifetime, it ends much too soon.
Gilbert begins her beguiling tale of an innocent young woman discovering the excitements and pleasures of 1940 New York City with a light touch, as her heroine, Vivian Morris, romps through the city. Gradually the story deepens into a psychologically keen narrative about Vivian’s search for independence as she indulges her free spirit and sexuality ... Vivian—originally reckless and selfish, eventually thoughtful and humane—is the perfect protagonist for this novel, a page-turner with heart complete with a potent message of fulfillment and happiness.
The story is jammed with terrific characters, gorgeous clothing, great one-liners, convincing wartime atmosphere, and excellent descriptions of sex, one of which can only be described (in Vivian's signature italics) as transcendent. There are still many readers who know Gilbert only as a memoirist. Whatever Eat Pray Love did or did not do for you, please don't miss out on her wonderful novels any longer. A big old banana split of a book, surely the cure for what ails you.