Friday, January 8, 2021

Amor Towles - Rules of Civility

This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. 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 down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into 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. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike

Comment: In November I read the other book by this author with a friend. We liked that one so we decided to give it a go to this one as well, to start off the new year and to see if it would be as captivating as the other one was.

This is the first book published by the author and it focuses on the lives of Katey Kontent and her friends during the late 1930's in New York. Katey and her friend Eve are working girls making ends meet but enjoying the life of the big city as well as they can and while at a jazz bar they meet Tinker, a dandy young man who dazzles them both with his charm and possibilities, since he comes from a posh family. As their friendship develops, so do the feelings these people have for one another and the dreams they share, at least until an event changes the dynamics between them. However, with change comes reflection and will these people, and all the others they end up having in common, ever feel they've reached the best of their capacity?

I have to admit at first I could not see the appeal. This was published before the other book I had read and liked by the author and my first impression was not a vibrant one so I assumed his technique and skill improved from this book to the next. This book is divided into four main sections plus prologue and epilogue. During the first half of the story I was slight bored with the characters but there's this huge twist of sorts, which I haven't seen coming but that changed my whole perspective for the second half and I ended up devouring those sections.

The first sections, where we got to meet the characters and start to understand them presents a reality that wasn't that interesting to me. Chapters and more chapter about the wonderful life of the privileged while the cynical and somewhat aloof heroine went on her daily life being judgmental towards others was a little unappealing to me. What "saved" her was the fact she liked reading books! I kept commenting with my friend that this books wasn't poignant nor sweet at times as Gentleman in Moscow was.

The plot wasn't very thrilling, to be honest, and the musings by the heroine about this and that, while witty and smart (for Katey is intelligent and astute), were nothing special when I thought about the sense of the book. The lives of those people just didn't captivate me at all. Then, when the second section is about to end and I was thinking how much more boring and unassuming the story could be, the author surprises the reader with a twist which I could not have imagined! I mean, it's not as if the clues weren't there, but I can't tell if I was mislead into stupor by the clever writing on purpose or if I just didn't really pay enough attention but from that on, I certainly did!

Things which had seemed pointless or mundane suddenly got another meaning. I started to like Katey more too, although I can't say she is a character one can easily sympathize with. I still think she's way too cynical for too long during the story for me to care about her feelings but I could understand her behavior more after that point. I ended thinking the author actually knew what he was doing although at first I doubted how could I enjoy reading this. I still have the opinion the book isn't completely balanced, but each little detail from then on started to make sense and fit the kind of message/intention the story was aiming at, especially when it came to the character's state of mind.

Some passages in the book are also very subtle in how much depth they have. There are some thing which are not obvious, which are not clearly said but what the words can convey and the meaning they can acquire can be immense. I won't make the mistake of thinking the author doesn't have a purpose with every detail because there is one for certain. Some things make one think and it's always subtle, so anyone can reach their own conclusions. It was also interesting to compare the kind of conduct/values expressed or demonstrated here with the way that is also presented in the other book.

I'm quite invested in the author's work now. I'm eager to know when another book by him will be published and I will certainly read it at some point.

Grade: 7/10

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