Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (July Meetup)

13339004Another bookclub meetup is in the books! We met on Sunday afternoon to discuss Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. And even though there were only four of us in attendance, I still think we had a very interesting and in depth discussion. Several members who were unable to attend emailed me to let me know how much they really enjoyed this story of a girl in 1930s NYC.

Book Jacket: (because I’m having the hardest time summarizing)

“On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel her on a yearlong journey toward the upper echelons of New York society – where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.”

Amor Towles has never written a book before. He also spent his career on Wall Street. The fact that he was able to pen this gem of a story really surprises and impresses me. And while the story isn’t perfect by any means and suffers from several ‘first novel’ weaknesses, I was really able to forgive all of those bits for the sheer quality of his writing – the emotions he was able to evoke and the imagery he created. In short, I’m thrilled the Litwits selected this novel and even more thrilled that Towles just recently released a novella following Eve, another central character to the plot of Rules of Civility.

While there was an overwhelming sense of appreciation and enjoyment from the ladies, the conversation wasn’t entirely positive. Some members felt that the dialog lacked a true 1930s feel and that some of the details weren’t historically accurate. These inaccuracies distracted them and affected their reading of the book. We also wished that Tinker and Eve’s characters had been more fleshed-out, but enjoyed Katey’s character development quite a bit. With the publication of his short novella centered on Eve, I think Towles himself actually believed Eve needed more depth and exploration. We talked in great detail about whether or not Towles’s decision to write from the female perspective worked – whether he was able to write convincingly female characters –  and were ultimately torn.

For me, Rules of Civility is a novel that wonderfully evokes 1930s noir novels. I felt that darker, grittier atmosphere come alive and enjoyed Katey’s story immensely. I especially loved the lyrical writing and the many literary references tossed throughout – particularly Katey’s love of Great Expectations. If I had to sum up my reading, I’d stay Towles’s first novel is a debut with moments of brilliance. Those moments have me earnestly awaiting his next novel as I think he’s going to only improve with time and experience.

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12 thoughts on “Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (July Meetup)

  1. I’m bummed I couldn’t make this month’s meet up, but I am glad to hear that you all liked it for the most part. It sounds like a great read! I still have Rules of Civility on hold at the library and plan to read it when it (finally) comes in.

    • We’re bummed you couldn’t come too! It was a good discussion with just the four of us though, and I adored the writing even with some plot flaws. Can’t wait to see what you think – and I saw that the book was fairly heavily requested at the library which was surprising.

  2. I really loved this book. I agree with you about how it perfectly captures the feeling of that time. Amor Towles has a short out that explores Eve’s life in more detail. I can’t really get with reading the shorts of novels, but I thought it was worth mentioning since you just finished.

    • The Eve novella was actually very good. I enjoyed it as much as the novel and it only took about a hour to get through! Can’t wait for Towles to write something new!

  3. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and writing in this one. Parts of the story fell flat, but like you said, I’m looking forward to reading more by the author!

    • Yes, I think he’ll only become better with time. He’s already a beautiful writer just some minor plotting issues. He could be absolutely brilliant one day!

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