Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility

“It was the last night of 1937.”

Rules of Civility was the third book that we read for my new book group. It had a bit of a mixed review from the book group members with the majority of us liking it, and other members being a bit put off by some of the plot turns and themes, but overall I think it was a hit.

The novel is set in the late ’30’s in NYC and centers on Katey Kontent, a young, ambitious woman who lives in a boarding house with her wild friend Eve. Katey works at a law firm as a typist and goes on adventures with Eve at night. One New Year’s Eve they meet Tinker Grey who appears to have money and class – something both Katey and Eve are attracted to. When they join Tinker’s wealthy set life changes for both of the girls, tragically for Eve and advantageously for Katey. As the year goes on, Katey, who is bright and curious, makes the most of the opportunities that come her way yet endures heartache and sadness along the path to discovering herself.

The two best things about this novel are the setting and Katey. Towles conjures the allure of city with his vibrant descriptions of the buildings, the streets, the nightlife, the energy and bustle. Katey is described with the same enthusiasm. She is smart, funny, clever, sassy and self-reflective. It is a joy to watch her make her way in the world and discover who she wants to be and how she wants to live. She narrates the story and her voice is completely endearing and authentic.

The other characters are also very polished. For a debut novelist Towles does an amazing job of creating distinct and colorful people who are full of complexities. He also writes fantastic dialogue that reads like a movie from the 1930’s sounds.

This is a first-rate coming of age story with wit and intelligence. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to see what Amor Towles writes next.

For those of you who’ve read Rules of Civility, did you know that Towles wrote a short story collection called Eve in Hollywood? It will soon be available as an ebook (Thanks to Melissa from Life:Merging for letting me know about it).

Other thoughts:

Ciao Domenica

Lakeside Musing

Miss Bibliophile

Tiny Library

A Work in Progress

13 thoughts on “Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

  1. You are right about the two best things in the book being Katey and the setting. Thanks for the heads up about the short story collection, I’ll keep a look out for it.


  2. This was probably one of the favorite books that I read last year, or at the very least one of the most memorable with the vivid world that Towles creates. I wonder if there are any plans for a movie in the works. It seems like it would really lend itself to a film adaptation.


  3. The setting sounds wonderful – and Katey a very interesting character (with a strange name – did she re-name herself by any chance?) I’m off to check the library catalogue.


    1. Yes, she probably did rename herself – she is of Russian heritage so Kontent is most likely not her real last name 😉 I think you would like this book, Lisa!


  4. This sounds good, and the ideas to gather about the pace from what you’ve said are appealing. The time period, yes please!


  5. I just finished! It was so good. I loved the ending and the nostalgic feeling of the whole book. I cried when she got her Christmas present from Wallace. So good.


  6. We clearly still live in an aspirational society. We have just exited half a decade when virtually every tier of the American population has borrowed money in order to buy bigger cars and bigger houses with better fixtures. And we still have American youth in pursuit of success and stature, though success and stature today may mean wearing sneakers at a startup rather than a tuxedo at a country club.


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