Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

This one’s an odd choice for me: no sorcerers, no ghosts, no guns, no starships, and if I’m honest, there wasn’t really much that would normally hold my attention … aside from the some very fine writing.

The story is set a few years before WWII. America is rediscovering its sense of prosperity following the Great Depression, and New York is crammed full of industrious rich, and the idle children of the industrious rich.

And crash-landing into this world of privileged hedonism, is our heroine and narrator, the unlikely-named Kathey Kontent (Kontent – emphasis on the ent, as in ‘reasonably happy’). Kathey takes us through her time as a wannabe ‘it’ girl, climbing New York’s society ladder aided by a vast array of equally ambitious female friends and somewhat vacuous lovers.

The author draws a world that you can almost touch. The architecture, the cars, the noise, the people … reading this book is really odd; a lot like remembering a forties movie you’ve never seen. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, and the story is beautifully told, and it gets better as Kathey becomes a wiser to the way the world works. It helps that she’s a very likeable character: smart and ambitious, with two very simple aims: a fabulous career and a rich husband.

I did find the female characters more interesting than the men, though that’s probably because the women had a lot more to struggle against (still do!) which is why I’ve always felt the make much more intense literary leads. Kathey is no exception: she’s uncompromising, but also a bit of a dreamer.

And yes, there’s the writing: sheer poetry. Every sentence is meticulously assembled, not a single word wasted. As I said, this isn’t my usual mug of coffee, but as I’m always interested in studying other writers’ styles, this is a fine example of the craft.

Did I enjoy it? Yes I did.

Is it my favourite book? Nope. That’s still Silk, I’m afraid.

But if you’re a student of writing (and I like to think I still am) then this is one of those books that you can really learn something from, and it’ll show you the standard you need to aim for to get yourself published.

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