Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

I bought Rules of Civility as an Amazon Daily Deal over winter and have been looking forward to diving into it for a while. Set in the late 30s, Katey Kontent (pronounced like the state of being, not the things included in something) is a young, single woman working in New York City and making it on her own. While not rich herself, she hobnobs with the very rich and glamorous as she makes her way through that NYC scene.

While at a jazz club with her best friend, Eve, she meets Tinker Grey – a handsome and obviously wealthy man. The three hit it off and become inseparable, which creates some goodhearted competition between Katey and Eve. A tragic accident shifts the course of their relationships and puts a wedge between the women that’s hard to navigate.

I’ve seen this book raved about and was so excited to read it. The first third is full of alliteration and metaphors that felt a bit over the top. As I kept reading, it became clear that Towles was using those literary strategies to plop the reader down into this time period. I swear – I started talking like I was living during the 1930s for a while! Once we were solidly into the story, the metaphors and alliteration began to slow down and the author relied more on the story to set the scene, rather than writing techniques, which was most welcome.

There were so many literary allusions in this novel. The characters were always reading and discussing art and literature, which is always so much fun for me. The author did a great job of making many of the allusions obvious to all readers – even I picked up on a lot of them and I’m sure that there were many others that just went over my head.

This novel felt like a cross between The Goldfinch and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the movie, that is; I’ve never read the book). Katey reminded me a lot of Theo’s mother; Katey was an art lover and eventually started working at a literary magazine with an editor straight out of The Devil Wears Prada. Both Katey and Theo’s mother were down to earth and hardworking women who were moving in glamorous circles. Tinker reminded me of both Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak, which is a strange combination, I know. There’s a mystery surrounding him that we slowly uncover as time goes on.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved getting to know Katey and watching her stand on her own two feet, no matter what happened in her life. If she were real, I would want to be friends with her!


2 thoughts on “Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

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  1. Oh man I loooooooved this book. I had a co-worker try to read it and describe it as “too wordy.” Ha ha! That’s the difference in our reading tastes – I love books that are “too wordy!” Right now I’ve just started Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow and it’s so beautiful and lovely and lush. It’s a hefty one but I don’t think it will take me too long because Towles is such a great writer! Your comparison to The Goldfinch is apt in the writing style too.


    1. I can’t wait to see what you think about A Gentleman in Moscow. I’m kicking myself because I was on the overdrive waitlist for WEEKS and then I was in a non-reading phase when it was my turn to read it, so I let it expire. Doh! I’m glad you also saw the similarities to The Goldfinch!


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