Category Archives: Cities in Books

City of Girls #BookReview

Book: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

This is my second book by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Eat Pray Love and I didn’t much care for it. I then tried liking the film but I just about managed to get through it only because Julia Roberts is one of my absolute favourite actresses.

So it was with much trepidation that I picked up City of Girls, on the assurance that it wasn’t like her previous work at all. That did prove accurate, for this one really is very different.

The story

19- year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to live with her aunt Peg who owns and runs Lily Playhouse, a theatre company. From her small town existence, Vivian is pushed into this new exciting world peopled with amazingly colourful characters – actors, script writers, musicians and the most magnificent showgirls. Being an extraordinarily talented seamstress she fits right in. She falls in love with New York and with this new life of hers. She cannot have enough of it. Every night she traipses through it in a haze of men and alcohol savouring every moment of this new found freedom far from her parents and her small town upbringing.

Then one night she makes a mistake. A mistake so huge that nothing can set it right. Not only does it cause a massive scandal but also changes her life completely.

It brings to Vivian, a maturity as well, and a new understanding of herself and of what she wants from life.

What I liked

The book traces Vivian’s journey through life. In that sense it can be termed a bit of a coming-of-age book, only it goes much beyond, following Vivian into old age. It is also a bit of historical fiction with the backdrop of WWII during part of the narrative. Most of all it describes New York City and its growth over the years in fascinating detail.

However, for me, the best part of the book was the Lily Playhouse. Quite like Vivian I was taken in by running of a theatre company and the people who inhabited the world. Each character big and small added to the setting making it come alive, while retaining a special place for herself/himself. 

I loved the bits where Vivian scouted for clothes turning them into beautiful creations and the way the entire team at Lily Playhouse comes together to put on a hit play. I loved Aunt Peg. New York of the 1940s was enchanting and I could see exactly why Vivian was so enamoured of it.

What could have been better

The first half of the book, though fast paced had pages and pages of descriptions of Vivian’s night-outs and that grew tedious – sex and alcohol and then some more sex, till I grew tired of it. The book slows down in the second half and then it tends to drag.

The saddest part though was that I couldn’t warm up to Vivian. Oh there were many pluses to her character – she was spunky and adventurous and a good enough friend, but she was annoyingly immature. Perhaps that was the way her character was supposed to be in the beginning but I didn’t grow to care for her even in her grown-up avatar. Her obsession with having a ‘good time’ continued to irk me, quite similar to Liz of Eat Pray Love.

I couldn’t even connect with the great romance/friendship Vivian finds towards the end of the book.

All in all Gilbert’s heroines don’t seem to be on my list of favourites.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the ‘free hit’ prompt.

Last thought: A racy read yet pretty meh. Avoidable.

City Vibes #BookBytes 23

Hola folks! 

It’s #BookBytes time and today we’re talking cities, through book quotes, of course. The best way to get to know a city, other than actually living there, is through a book. If only geography was taught through fictional tales I’d have absolutely fallen in love with it. The sights, the sounds, the streets, the markets, pubs, bistros, coffee shops – an author has the power to bring it all alive for us making us live the city with his/her characters.

I recently finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The City of Girls and it gives a wonderful feel of New York of the 1940s. I have travelled to Istanbul with Elif Shafak (The Bastard of Istanbul), Afghanistan with Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and closer home I roamed the lanes of Malgudi with RK Narayan (Malgudi Days), the streets of Mumbai with Rohinton Mistry (A Fine Balance), and Calcutta with Dominique Lapierre (The City of Joy). What an absolute delight these books have been!

I’ve picked a quote from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a book I read long time ago that describes Bombay with accurate poignancy.

“Mumbai is the sweet, sweaty smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of Gods, demons, empires, and civilizations in resurrection and decay. Its the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the island city, and the blood metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and the waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and love that produces courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches and mosques, and of hundred bazaar devoted exclusively to perfume, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. That smell, above all things – is that what welcomes me and tells me that I have come home.

Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Have you read a book that brought alive a city for you? A contemporary read?

If you had to describe your city in a word, or a sentence maybe, what would it be?

As always, thoughts from fellow Bibliophiles brighten my day. I’d love to hear from you.

***********

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on Tuesday, February 4th.