Book Review: The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

How Excited Was I To Read The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles? 7. Vaguely? Pretty excited? It seemed like a book I should like, even though I was by no means certain that I would.

Book Rating: 10! New Yorkers, or those who love the city, get thee to a bookstore! Pronto! And I would recommend it more generally too. This book was gorgeous.

Book Jacket: On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

Book Review: Where to begin? This book is first and foremost an ode to a city. A city that I happen to love. But it’s not the New York of today, or the New York of Fitzgerald, as one often expects. No, this is the New York of 1938. A fascinating time in which the country was beginning to recover from one traumatizing event while standing on the brink of another, and one to which Amor Towles is able to fully do justice! As a historical novel, this book is fabulous.

Full of erudite references – to literature, jazz, and a bygone era – told in such a way as to never alienate the reader, this book left me wanting more. More of the Rules of Civility, but I also came up with an entire reading list inspired by this book! Books that lead you to other books are one of my very favorite things.

So the writing was great. How about the characters? I loved our main character Katey Kontent. She’s complex and likeable and real. And that’s true of every one of these characters. It would have been very easy for this book to devolve into stereotypes. To become predictable. Instead, it was one of the most unexpected reads I’ve enjoyed in a long time. And not all that much happens! It’s simultaneously deadly serious and great fun.

I’m sorry that this is less a review and more of a series of impressions, but I marked so many points in the book it would be impossible to cover everything I enjoyed about it. If you are looking for a good adult read, I highly recommend you check it out!

Recommended for: New Yorkers, fans of the historical novel, and fans of the novel in general!

If you liked this book you should also check out: Agh, I felt it was quite unique! I’m going with… Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, though the era is not the same?