Also by this author: Eve in Hollywood, A Gentleman in Moscow
Published by Penguin Group, Viking Adult on July 2, 2011
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
When I first picked up Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, I was unsure whether I would like the book or not. I had heard and read so many great things about it that I was willing to overlook the preconceptions I had about it. Going into it, I thought I was going to be reading a book about climbing up the social ladder during the late 1930’s (think Mean Girls with long cigarettes and ruby red lips). While this is partially true, the book was surprisingly unputdownable. Told from the viewpoint of Katherine Kontent, it documents a year of her life and the various players that weave in and out of it, most notably Evey and Tinker. It questions loyalties, social standing, and life choices.
While most books require a lead-in to the main story, Rules hits the ground running. I was almost halfway done with the book before I realized that there was not an identifiable introduction (there is a prologue, but I flipped pages so quickly that I didn’t realize this until later). The characters, all rich and fully-developed, are so real that when I came up for air I needed to reorient myself to the 21st century because I was so caught up in the life and styles of the 1930’s (I may even have to start saying ‘capital!’ instead of ‘fantastic!’).
While I don’t know much about the 30’s and 40’s (having not been alive), the social interactions at play in this book are exactly what I think they may have been like. One quote that I loved was, “Bitsy had somehow come into possession of a trumpet,” and it was inserted into the book with such ease that I thought, ‘Of course she would come into possession of a trumpet!’
In the end, I don’t know whether to call this book sad, heartwarming, realistic or idealistic (it’s a little bit of all of these), but I do know it’s amazing. There were no loose ends (an accomplishment given the characters and their depth) and written incredibly well. The author found the perfect balance between modern and 1940’s writing. It’s hard to describe, but most books from the first half of the 20th century have a writing style that can be more difficult to get into. Towles managed to capture the theme and feel of the times without being trapped by the ‘difficult’ writing style. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this book so wonderful, but it is definitely worth reading.