One of my favorite eras to read about is the Jazz Age. This started way back in my teens when I read The Great Gatsby for the first time; I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his style of writing. He had a knack for capturing the lifestyles of the social elite (probably because he was always striving to join them.) All of his novels are stories about the wealthy and (usually) their decline. I’ve read each of his novels and loved them all!
So, I didn’t think anyone would ever come close to writing this era and style as well as he – but I think I may have found a contender! Amor Towles has been compared to Fitzgerald by some of the literary circles but I always shrugged that off, thinking there was no way. This book has been on my “TBR” list for a longgggg time. I finally checked it out at the library and gave it a go – and now I hate that it took me this long to pick it up! Towles can bring the 1930’s jazz scene in New York City to life so well you could even consider the city to be a character in the story. He portrays the sights, the sounds, the feeling of it all in such rich detail. In some ways, I may even consider The Rules of Civility superior to The Great Gatsby! (GASP)
The plot is so fresh and believable with themes of self-invention, aspirations, and a little bit of mystery thrown in. The story is narrated by 25 year old Katey Kontent, a single girl in post-depression New York who is attempting to climb the social strata on her own. She is a true example of strong feminist in a time when most girls were looking to get married to the richest men so they didn’t have to work. Katey preferred to be single. I like this storytelling method because she is able to question high society but still allow us to enjoy the glamour of it all.
Katey and her roommate, Eve, meet a mysterious gentleman on New Year’s Eve and that sets in motion a fascinating story about chance encounters and offhand decisions and the consequences that come from those decisions. Towles portrays women so well – you won’t believe how captivated you are until you finish it and you actually miss Katey and her inner monologue. Plus, as a bonus, reading is a favorite pastime of Katey’s, so a lot of familiar titles appear throughout the book. The title of the book, The Rules of Civility, is even book-related! It is taken from a list written by George Washington while he was in grade school, which laid out a system of ideals and practical applications for gentlemen of class. You could say it was etiquette for men. I like how Towles tied in something like this to the plot. I thought it was genius!
I am unable to summarize the book without spoiling it, but honestly, I didn’t know the details of the plot before I read it either. I feel that the events that occur are secondary to the feeling it gave me. His writing is truly special. If you are a literature lover, you will appreciate this masterpiece. (And this is his debut novel!!) You will want to read it all in one sitting and then start all over again – trying to memorize the best parts – until you realize it’s all good.
Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 stars