Rules of Civility – Amor Towles – 9/10

“One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.”

This is one novel I wish I’d listened to in audiobook – and I may try to get it in audio just so that I can. Towles has chosen to set his social study in carefree late 1930s Manhattan, choosing as his heroine a witty, smart, ahead of her time daughter of a Russian immigrant, Katya (now Katey) Kontent. Katey lives in Mrs Martingale’s boarding house with Evey Ross, and the two of them go out for New Year’s Eve on 1937 and befriend Tinker Grey, a young socialite banker. An awkward double romance develops but when Evey is disabled in a winter accident, Tinker throws his lot in with her. Katey moves on through New York society but every road seems to lead her back to Tinker eventually.

Towles has chosen to frame his story through the perspective of Katey as an older woman, reminded of the escapades of her youth by a photographic exhibition she attends with her husband. The first person narrative is slightly limiting, but by having Katey as the sensible one and Evey as the one whom trouble follows, we do of course get an interesting story. And this is an era with which I am entirely unacquainted! Most of my reading is set in pre-1900 or 1960+. The glamour and optimism of the late 30s in the USA, Manhattan before cell phones and yellow taxis and fear of terrorism, even the immigrant experience of the USA (it’s only really in Daughter of Fortune and Snow Falling on Cedars that I have run across it before) – all are new to me in literature and they were wonderful.

One of the things I love about reading on the Kindle is how easy it is to highlight passages and then come back to them when I am writing the review. Towles has a beautiful writing style, using words and phrases like “fabdabulous”, “the wine was older than me” and “a burgeoning taste for flawlessness”. Some of the ones I marked as I went through Rules of Civility:

On starting on page 104 of a Hemingway novel:

“Bit characters stood on equal footing with the central subjects and positively bludgeoned them with disinterested common sense. The protagonists didn’t fight back. They seemed relieved to be freed from the tyranny of their tale. It made me want to read all of Hemingway’s books this way”

Other quotes:

“He felt elaborately around the bag until he brought out a cinnamon donut perched upright on his fingertips. Which, as it turns out, is all it takes to secure a place in my affections.”

“It’s terrific, I admitted. But I can’t help thinking how much better it would look on you, given the color of your hair. If I may be so bold, Miss Kontent, the color of my hair is available to you on the second floor.”

“At peace with the notion that he would join them soon enough in that circle of Elysium reserved for plot and substance and the judicious use of the semicolon” possibly my favourite book quote ever.

Well worth the read. Get your hands on a copy if you can, and even better if it’s in audio!

Other reviews: NPR, Just William’s Luck, Jennifer at Literate Housewife, Nicole at Linus’ Blanket; USA Today

Additional info:
This was supplied by the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Penguin Group USA, read on Kindle. The hardback has 352 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
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17 thoughts on “Rules of Civility – Amor Towles – 9/10

  1. Claire (The Captive Reader) 12 August 2011 at 5:56 pm Reply

    This sounds absolutely wonderful. I’m well down the hold list for this at the library but, as each glowing review comes I’m, I’m getting more and more excited to read it! I’m always attracted to anything set in the 1930s and it’s certainly hard to match New York for glamour during that time.

    • readingwithtea 13 August 2011 at 12:36 pm Reply

      I am sure you will enjoy it when you finally get it in your hands!

  2. Angela 12 August 2011 at 6:36 pm Reply

    So glad you posted this review because I also excited about reading this book.

  3. Booklover Book Reviews 13 August 2011 at 3:03 am Reply

    Oh, this sounds like just my cup of tea!! Requesting it straight away…

  4. Elena 14 August 2011 at 3:53 pm Reply

    The picture on the cover was the same as in my Penguin edition of The Great Gatsby, so, from the beginning of your review I tended to associate this book with TGG. However, as I kept reading, I think it is probably a good story on its own. I’ve added it to my TBR list. Thanks!

    • readingwithtea 14 August 2011 at 5:52 pm Reply

      I have never (shock: never!!) read The Great Gatsby so I can’t comment, but this is a good tale and I would very much recommend it!

  5. […] reviews of Rules of Civility: Reading Fuelled by Tea ; Cineaste’s Bookshelf ; Chew and Digest Books ; The Guardian Related posts:Book Review […]

  6. The Best of 2011 | Reading Fuelled By Tea 27 December 2011 at 9:34 pm Reply

    […] Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Alan Bradley’s A Red Herring Without Mustard, Aimee Carter’s The Goddess Test, Jane Green’s The Love Verb, Casey Hill’s Taboo, Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Elle Newmark’s The Sandalwood Tree, David Nicholls’ One Day, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Frances de Pontes Peebles’ The Seamstress, Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank and Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. […]

  7. […] If I were Prime Minister I would make: Rules of Civility […]

  8. The Best of 2011 | Reading With Tea 1 January 2012 at 5:06 pm Reply

    […] Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Alan Bradley’s A Red Herring Without Mustard, Aimee Carter’s The Goddess Test, Jane Green’s The Love Verb, Casey Hill’s Taboo, Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, Elle Newmark’s The Sandalwood Tree, David Nicholls’ One Day, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Frances de Pontes Peebles’ The Seamstress, Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank and Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. […]

  9. […] has charm and character and a strong sense of the time at hand which reminded me of Rules of Civility. Why shouldn’t she evoke the 50s if she lived through them, I hear you grumble at your […]

  10. […] has charm and character and a strong sense of the time at hand which reminded me of Rules of Civility. Why shouldn’t she evoke the 50s if she lived through them, I hear you grumble at your […]

  11. […] Reading with Tea: “Well worth the read. Get your hands on a copy if you can, and even better if it’s in audio!” Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  12. […] The lovely people at Viking/Penguin Books in the US have got a paperback copy  of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles to be given away in celebration of the release of the paperback edition. I loved this book when I read it last summer so it comes highly recommended! […]

  13. […] items was a very kind offer from Shannon at Viking to send a paperback copy of Rules of Civility, which I loved, to a giveaway winner, and I had held the giveaway competition in the past, but never announced the […]

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