Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Many of the reviews of Rules of Civility compare the book to The Great Gatsby and I can see that connection. But the story that came to my mind when I read Amor Towles' novel was Breakfast at Tiffany's (the movie more than the novella which I read too many years ago to discuss). Both stories take place in New York and seem to celebrate the city's whirlwind culture. Also, Tinker Grey has a connection to Paul Varjak that is obvious at the end. But the greatest link is in the characters of Eve Ross and Holly Golightly. They are both young women who have come to the city from rural settings determined to make a life for themselves – primarily by finding the right (i.e. wealthy) men.
Katie Kontent is the narrator and primary character in Rules of Civility, so I find it interesting that Towles decided to follow up his novel with a short story collection about Eve rather than continuing with Katie's story. I like that choice. Katie's character was a little too knowledgeable to be believable. She knew the current culture enough to recognize jazz numbers, recite specific lines of poetry by poets she hadn't brought up, and recognize the work of contemporary artists when she happened to see their paintings hanging. She was like a walking culture encyclopedia, but nobody ever commented on her wealth of knowledge. Instead Tinker simply found her a more interesting conversationalist than her roommate. This read as if the author was intruding his own interests on the story.
Towles has received some criticism from other reviewers because Katie seems to think from a male perspective. I agree that her first description of Eve reads as if it was written by a man with a very romantic view of women. But after that I wasn't bothered by thoughts that seemed masculine. Of course, women would naturally be more sensitive to that issue than a male reader.
I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Rebecca Lowman. I found her even toned, slightly apathetic interpretation perfect for the sophisticated feel of this novel, so I would recommend listening to this one.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions
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