Review for All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth Church by BB reviewer Cathie C from advanced reading copy given (8th March release $29.99rrp HarperCollins Books Australia)
Elizabeth Church is without a doubt a writer of feminist stories. She writes stories about women for women that tackle issues experienced by many of us. In her new novel, All the Beautiful Girls, Church tackles domestic violence and the objectification of women. Church follows the story of Lily Decker, aka Ruby Wilde, as she experiences exploitation of one sort of another at every age. Some of this exploitation Lily/Ruby accepted and in the short term benefited from. But her story shows the trajectory of such manipulation in a woman's life and how it scars us in the long run. Using the world of a showgirl was a fantastic tool with which to illustrate this. Church shows how the initial exploitation and abuse experienced by Lily/Ruby as a child primed her to accept her objectification, even if as a showgirl on the stage she felt in control. This control was clearly short-lived, as at some stage a showgirl has to leave the stage and the casino, and this was where Lily/Ruby felt the long-term effects of her manipulation, despite her strong and spirited nature. Lily/Ruby was primed for the grooming that occurs in an abusive relationship.
I didn't have quite the same exquisite emotional response to some parts of this book as I did with Church's first book Atomic Weight Of Love, partly because the life of a showgirl is so removed from me everyday experience. But other parts of Lily/Ruby's experience from both her childhood and her life of a showgirl resonated with me painfully. The experience of exploitation and manipulation is universal and socioeconomic status is no barrier to its experience. Church's writing hinted at the darkness under the bright, shiny, facade of a showgirl's life, so that while I was enamoured with this life to a certain degree, I never really coveted it
While the ending was a bit too neat in some respects, it contrasted with the tragedy at the beginning of her life. I think the story would have been a bit too dark if terrible tragedy book-ended her life, considering the challenges she faced throughout her life. I did enjoy the book very much and would heartily recommend it. Some of her writing is heartbreakingly beautiful, especially those passages relating to Lily/Ruby's early childhood. This would make a good bookclub choice as there’s lots to talk about in it.
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