Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

The Scoop: (Goodreads)

A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Condé Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.

Elegant and captivating,
Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.

My Take:

Rules of Civility is a series of beautifully written vignettes, each one a little love letter to New York City in the late 1930’s. The novel isn’t a series of short stories, technically, but it contains many small scenes that could function very on their own. The overall plot is just as captivating containing numerous twists and turns executed by well-developed characters.
Katey's Times Square

The scene is NYC 1938. The depression is almost over, the War to End All Wars has yet to begin and in this pause between historic upheavals, our main characters find themselves thrown together. Eve and Katey are a couple of girls with plenty of smarts and moxie, but not so much dough. Tinker is clever and kind and introduces the girls to a life of privilege and glamour. The question is how much does the “good life” really cost a person?

What would you do to go from rags to riches?
I love stories of America in the 30's and 40's. I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong decade. I love the little details Towles includes in Rules of Civility that help to bring NYC to life. Each character is beautifully developed (even the side characters) and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in Katey's adventures.

Final Verdict:


  1. I really want to read this one. I've heard so many good things about it. I agree, the time period is fascinating. Great review!

  2. Oh! Steph, thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I haven't heard of it but it definitely sounds up my alley. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Fantastic review :)
    I'm your newest follower, stumbled upon your blog via Book Blogs! Would love it if you would drop by my blog and follow too: clairelouisereads.blogspot.com.au. I'll stay tuned!

  4. I have Tagged you in a post, please check it out -


  5. The book was not memorable for me. If I had put it down, I may not have ever finished it. There just wasn't anything that beckoned to spur me on with curiosity or otherwise. At times the conversation seemed boring.

  6. I loved this book from beginning to end. I loved the language, Katy's personality, the plot, and the ending. Quite honestly, the few bad reviews are dead wrong. I almost never read books twice, as there are so many I want to read, but I am about to order this one from Amazon, after reading it from the library. Loved it and can't wait to read it again to catch things I missed the first time.



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