What I’ve been reading: October

I have no words to start this block, except this: where did 2020 go? I’m looking at the word “October” as I write this and it’s just hit me that it’s well and truly the end of the year. Like many other people, I promised myself back in March that I would do more with all the extra time the lockdown gave us and low and behold, I have not. But that’s OK, because now we have lockdown 2.0, so there’s still time right? I’ll be writing a little blog in the next few days about how I’m coping with it all, because mental health and self care is important folks, but right now I’m going to focus on just one of my escape routes: reading.

In October, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls (and incidentally, totally by accident, I also watched Eat, Pray, Love so go Liz). I picked this up in the book shop because I liked the cover (go figure) and the lady said it was a good read so I decided to give it a go.

The lady was right about one thing; it’s a quick and easy read and I can see the appeal. I just didn’t really gel with the story that well.

City of Girls is framed as a letter from the narrator, Vivian, to Angela, a young woman who wants to know the nature of the relationship between her father and Vivian. So you’d think the book would be about that. It’s really not. The novel is predominantly about Vivian’s life as a young woman in New York slightly before and then during the Second World War. It’s about women, friendship, sex, the arts, class divides, but it’s not about the thing it says it is. Maybe that’s meant to be clever, I don’t know. After all, it’s Vivian’s story, and about how she comes to be the person that she is. But to me it’s frustrating. You keep being reminded of Angela and the reason for telling the story, sure, but it feels like the main action in the book becomes filler leading up to a pretty anti-climatic revelation. And Frank, the father, doesn’t feature at all until the last quarter of the book.

Maybe it’s just me picking holes, though. I did like the premise of the story and there are lots of very interesting points you could make about all those thematic points I listed above. Vivian herself is also a great character and an interesting person with a story to tell. So really it’s just the way the novel is framed that I don’t like. Without the whole “who were you to my father” subplot this would have been a really interesting coming of age story about women making their own way pre, during and post war. I think the frame narrative takes away from that.

On the whole, I would say it’s a good, easy read. You don’t have to think too hard, the messages are fairly straightforward and the narrator is funny and relatable. Whilst the book snob in me would usually prefer something more complex, I did enjoy City of Girls , but I’m ready for my next read to be something meatier.

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