Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
This is a love letter, not to New York, but to a New York specific to 1938, the jazz era-end of depression, Gatsby reborn, where the opportunities were just beginning again to be endless.
I loved this book.
The story of Katey Kontent, who Mira Ward would have been if she’d been born ten years earlier and not married Norm, this book had everything the could possibly entice me to love it. Beautifully structured and paced, the moods of the novel were so well played out you could see the lighting. If ever a book was more screaming to be well shot, this one is.
Katey-I can’t even begin to describe how much I wanted to be her. Secretary and sometime redhead, she is witty, sharp, well read and acidic and proof that even the most amazing women alive Fall In Stupid on occasion. If you wanted to be Flora Poste at 19, you’ll want to be Katey Kontent at 26.
On New Year’s Eve 1937 Katey and her roommate, gust of MidWest wind Evelyn, are broke, but happy, sitting drinking martinis in a seedy jazz club when seemingly wealthy playboy Tinker Grey walks into their lives. Evelyn, the happy consummate flirt who knows exactly what she’s doing and appears more childlike for being so, is the sort of character that one instantly loves; think Prue from The Land Girls mixed with a bit of Scarlett O’Hara-before-the-war. Katey, who is far too clever for where she is but having fun, goes along with her friend’s schemes with epic results. Over the course of the next year, both women change fundamentally, and Katey starts her own mesmerisingly brilliant path.
What I loved most about this book, apart from how incredibly real it felt, was how well Katey came across as a female character written by a man, which I know is a dreadful thing to say. The book has been criticised as being too asexual– critics cannot believe that women and men and alcohol would be together and not try and get in each others pants- to them I say Ha! You clearly don’t get What Women Want at all! When Katey wants to get laid, she gets laid. When she wants to get drunk and talk about Charles Dickens, she gets drunk and talks about Charles Dickens. Starting to see why I love her?
This book made me want to drink gin with olives in it, buy some silk knickers and dye my hair even redder. It made me want to light my cigarettes with matches and throw them over my shoulder for good luck. When I read Gatsby, the wealth and the snobbery annoyed me because it was so taken for granted by the narrator; with Rules of Civility you’re seeing it from Jay Gatsby’s eyes and suddenly it becomes ridiculous, but natural. Of course you’d wear diamonds in your ears if you could get away with it! Of course you’d spend twenty dollars on steak! Yet you’d still have just as good a time dining in some forgotten Explorers Club as at a seedy party of a part-time glamour girl drinking cold beer that’s been left in buckets on fire escapes.
This book, more than anything, encapsulates being 26. When you’re young enough to get away with some mistakes, but old enough that the decisions you do make will impact on the rest of your life. The author acknowledges this in a beautifully written way and I was sobbing at the end of this. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just turned 27 and am therefore reading this book at the exact right time-like reading On The Road at 18, but this book has really really made me happy and sad at the same time, I read it in a day, and I cannot tell you enough times to PLEASE, DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR AND DO THE SAME.