Monday, March 11, 2013

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

This is another book that we read for book group, but which I also feel inclined to personally review.

This is a great debut.  While reading this book, I have told many who will listen that this is what I wanted The Great Gatsby to be, but wasn't.  I know, blasphemy.  But I had heard so much about The Great Gatsby before reading it, and I really really built it up in my head.  I don't know that anything could have lived up to what I was expecting.  And along came Rules of Civility.

Set in 1938 in Manhattan, the book explores the "life and times" of a young girl (late 20s), finding her way.  The book is told from the perspective of Katya a/k/a Kate a/k/a Katherine a/k/a Katey, with brief and infrequent deviations from her perspective to Tinker Grey (Teddy/Theodore).  Many authors try to garner familiarity with their characters by the forced imposition of nicknames... Towles' use flowed off the proverbial tongue.  I never felt as if my feelings about the characters were being forced upon me or manufactured by clever tricks--whether that was in fact happening or not ;)  Instead, I felt that there was a natural, organic discovery of the various individuals in the story, and I was able to come to my own conclusions about them as "time" (the pages of the novel) passed.

I truly enjoyed Rules of Civility.  I loved reading about Kate's job as a paralegal, and then as an assistant (however briefly) in the literary world, and best of all, her role as co-executive assistant of the classed-up gossip magazine.  I loved reading about Kate's various friends and acquaintances.  I loved Anne Grandyn.  I loved Wallace.  I didn't particularly love a couple of the other characters -- including Tinker himself, but they were still intriguing ... and I'm not so sure I was meant to love them.  There was depth to the story and dynamics to the characters, and I appreciated that not everyone was the 150% version of what a real person would have been at that time.

The primary thing I did not love about the book:  There was a bit of time, in the middle to 2/3 point of the book, where it felt likt it was dragging just a little, where Kate's love life seemed to take on a depressing-romantic weighed down feel.  But Towles moves past that point and brings the reader back into activity and movement without straying too long in the "drama" side of Kate's year.

Overall, an excellent debut that definitely made me want to read more.  Definitely recommend to all readers, men and women alike.  Towles did an impressive job writing from the perspective of a woman, but there's still a gentleman's touch that I think will appeal to both genders alike.

FOUR of five stars.