Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: Rules of Civility

Summary: 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 Conde 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. -- Viking

There is no doubt that one of the most buzzed about books of the summer was RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles. This debut novel has been getting rave reviews from People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and many many more. Oprah Magazine's Book Editor even went so far as to say, "If you only read one book this summer..." in reference to RULES OF CIVILITY. I actually read this novel a number of weeks ago; however, I have been procrastinating writing this review because I'm not sure I can convey how special this book was to me.

There are a number of things about RULES OF CIVILITY that stood out to me. Probably one of my favorite things about this novel was the character development. I thought the author did a remarkable job of bringing the various characters to life -- even the secondary ones; and I was continually impressed with how complex the characters and their relationships were. Namely, I loved the dynamics between Katey, Eve, and Tinker, and I was fascinated by their interactions. I especially loved Katey and her spunkiness. And I really, really enjoyed seeing how much she matured and evolved by the end of the novel.

Another thing I really appreciated about this book was the setting -- Manhattan in the 1930s. In fact, this might have been one of my very favorite things about RULES OF CIVILITY. I absolutely loved how Mr. Towles described the various jazz nightspots, the restaurants, the offices, the apartments, the streets, etc. In fact, I thought the imagery was so well done that I could picture everything perfectly. Another wonderful thing about RULES OF CIVILITY was the commentary on the 1930s Manhattan social scene. I was riveted to the descriptions of the wealth and social status, and I so wish I had had the opportunity to experience this. It just sounded so glamorous!

Finally, I was beyond impressed Mr. Towles's writing. I can hardly believe this is his first novel because I thought the writing was so incredibly polished. I honestly was blown away again and again over by what he accomplished with this story. RULES OF CIVILITY explore so many universal themes that were prevalent not only in the 1930s but are still occurring today such as wealth, morality, social conventions, status, and many more. I am anxiously awaiting Mr. Towles' next book; however, I have to wonder how he will ever be able to follow up this one!

RULES OF CIVILITY would make an outstanding book club selection. I personally would love for my book club to read and discuss this novel because I truly believe that there is so much to talk about. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions, and I think so many of them are excellent. Some of the topics you might want to explore include love, friendships, guilt, social standing, wealth, power, morality, prestige, social conventions, choices and decisions, and the theme of photography.

I feel as if I barely touched the surface on the depth and scope of this novel, and I highly recommend reading it yourself and discovering the beauty of the prose. I honestly loved this book and treasured each and every page.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.


Karlie said...

What a great review. I haven't read many books set during this time period, but this one sounds like I should pick up.

Kate @Midnight Book Girl said...

Haven't read a book set in the 30's in a long time, this one looks great. Thanks for pointing out that it'd make a great book club selection, I'll put it on the list for mine!

Serena said...

I must be living in a cave...I have not heard of this book before now. Sounds interesting...I like historical fiction and the 1930s is always interesting. Thanks for the review and putting this on my radar

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see all the buzz about this book has been well deserved. I'll have to grab a copy the next time I'm in the bookstore.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I tried to read this a couple of times, but just couldn't get past the beginning, even though I know everyone has loved it!

Kailana said...

Great review! I really enjoyed this book and look forward to where the author goes next!

Sandy Nawrot said...

There have definitely been more positive reviews than negative, but there is definitely a contingent that did not like this book! I love the ones though that take you back to that time period in America...after one war but before the next. I really am glad you enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

I read this over the summer and recommended it to my book club. We are discussing it on Sept 22 so we'll see what they all think! I personally loved it!