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Monday 19 November 2012

Sluttery Book Club: Rules of Civility, Amor Towles

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles had our full attention when Frances described it to us as 'brilliant flapper girls and gin'. Was that all there was to it? We're going to be chatting about the book from 7:30, join us on Facebook or Twitter (using the hashtag #DSBookClub) to join in the discussion!

What's the book about? Here's the blurb: Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year-old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

Sian: "The driver pulled the cab in gear and Broadway began slipping by the windows like a string of lights being pulled of a Christmas tree."

This glorious line is when I realised that this wasn't a book I was going to forget in a while (and I was only 30 pages in). Rules of Civility is a beautifully written book, with passages that make you stare agape at the page. I read one passage page three times because it was so gorgeous. Every word is considered. Katey Kontent's line about loss in the last few pages will stick with me for a long time.

I wish there had been more of Eve in the second half of the novel. I don't think it was just a book about Katey. My favourite parts of the book were between her and Katey and while I'm pleased it wasn't a traditional love story and the book had much more to offer than that, the sharp banter between the two female leads was brilliant.

The final scene that Anne and Katey shared, though? That was awful-written, gratuitous and out of place with the elegance of the rest of the novel. It was just... vulgar. Luckily, the rest of the novel stands up - the heartbreak, the themes of loss and missed chances, the friendships and characters in a world and time that seems so glamourous and exciting - but it's actually the dark side Towles portrays that'll keep you reading.

Frances: I devoured this book on a flight, it's the perfect kind of tale to loose yourself in for a few hours. The whole book aches with a nostalgia for a lost New York, and a brief charmed period in the city. I loved the fact the heroine was smart and funny and that the story took unexpected twists and turns - especially the shocking event that comes so close to the start and ends of shaping the course of almost the whole story. However, I did sometimes feel Katey was a slightly unrealistic character and her meteoric rise to the upper echelons of New York society pushed believability too far. Then I decided Amor Towles was doing that deliberately and fell completely back in love with the book again.

Caleigh: I have to admit that I didn't think I was going to enjoy this book, I had it for weeks before actually opening it, but I'm delighted that I finally cracked the spine. I thought Katey was so brilliantly ambitious and witty that I wanted her story to keep going and going, just to find out more about her life! While there were some brilliant snippets of insight into life in New York, (especially about what the city represented to immigrants in the early 1900's) the story was such a charming one that it always kept moving. The characters, through the eyes of the heroine, are all loveable in their own ways and it made Rules of Civility a thoroughly entertaining read.

Sara: I'm ashamed that I didn't pick up this book til the weekend, because now I'm utterly in love with it and racing to finish it. It's a little bit Breakfast at Tiffany's, a smidgen Great Gatsby, mixed with some snappy screwball comedy - but somehow wholly original. I can imagine the film version and at times it feels it's been written with one eye to the script adaptation, but that's a small criticism of a captivating whirl of a novel.

Kat: I must say, I picked this up to read with the heaviest of hearts. Katey Kontent? A frothy romp through New York in the 30s? A blurb from David "One Day" Nicholls comparing it to a dry martini? Please, spare me.

Which made the fact that I really enjoyed this incredibly dry, unexpected book all the more pleasurable. I'd never heard of the author before, but my God he knows how to master a sentence. I highlighted so many good passages, my Kindle edition is practically one great big underline.

Some reviewers have murmured that perhaps this male author hasn't quite mastered a female protagonist, to which I say thank heavens. Katey Kontent, despite the odd swerve, is incredibly refreshing: master of her own destiny, completely unbothered about husband hunting, swooning, dating, basically anything that a female lead usually is. It's a romantic book, sure, but it also takes in her career and defining who she wants to be in New York. And, brilliantly, the clever ways she goes about obtaining what she wants, without ever resorting to wiles or being a complete cow.

The pace and tone of the book takes some getting used to, particularly if you're expecting something lighter and more fluffsome. But the characters are terrific. And if they've got a few more male attributes in them than usual, then so much the better. It makes them more credible and truer to real life.

The Sluttery Verdict: Well, we blimmin' loved it, despite some of its issues. (This is the first Sluttery Book Club that we've all liked!) There's enough drama and action, a lot of it dark, but the characters and beautifully crafted sentences is why this book will stick with us. And make us pick up everything else Towles writes. It's not perfect, but it gets two very enthusiastic thumbs up from us.

Next time? Something a little different. Look out for news of our Christmas plans! We want a bit of a reading break while we got to Christmas parties so Book Club will be back January. We've got something exciting up our sleeves for December so keep your eyes peeled.

What did you think of Rules of Civility? Tell us in the comments! WARNING: We've kept all spoilers out of this post, but we can't promise that you won't read spoilers in the comments. Don't say you weren't warned.


  1. This book was one of the best reads I've had in a long time. It's a poignant love story about life. Emotionally intelligent, entertaining,but with depth. I couldn't wait to get home to open my book-that kind of good!

  2. I was stunned by the imagery, the brutality, and the beauty of Towles writing. The plot was reminiscent of Fitzgerald, but the characters seemed much more real. I loved this book; it will be added to my list of favorites.


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