I don’t read a lot of ebooks – I’m very much a paperback reader. With ebooks I lose some sense of where I am in a book by not being able to look at it physically. I find it easier to flip back to find some plot point that I want to check or the context in which a character first appeared. So, when I was offered a chance to review Rules of Civility by Amor Towles in an ebook format, I hesitated. But drawn in by the book’s description on the author’s website I took a chance. I am so glad I did. Despite the format, I adored this book!
The setting is Manhattan in the late 1930’s. The threat of the Second World War is in the distant future and life, for the most part, is good. The reader sees what New York City was like during that era through the eyes of a young woman surviving quite well on her own in that large metropolis. The author did a fantastic job describing the culture of the young and carefree in an exciting city - so much so that the city takes on a character all of its own. Cocktails, bars, apartments, neighbourhoods and iconic buildings all figure prominently in this book. If you love the romance and cultural aura of New York City, you’ll find plenty of it here.
I really liked the protagonist, Kate Kontent. She’s a well-written character – smart, sassy, independent and with a good dose of subtle humour thrown in. She’s isn’t perfect; I picked up hints of envy in some situations and loneliness in others. It’s not that much was said, but rather shown (which I think is one of the trickiest talents a writer can develop and Amor Towles has it in spades). But Kate isn’t a wallflower; she acts on her instincts so that when she isn’t happy about something she takes steps to change it. And this is one of the reasons why the story moved along quickly and flowed so well. Dialogue between Kate and her contemporaries was also well done.
I also really liked the portrayal of women in this era. It seems that women in the 1930’s are much further along in society than their later counterparts. The freedom of the earlier era was gone by the 1950’s as the standard of a woman’s worth was depicted with the iconic housedress-wearing female staying home and having babies. But perhaps that was the sign of prosperity. In any case, this freedom surprised me too – I’ve always assumed that any era before the 1950’s had to be a worse one for women in general, but I didn’t pick that up from this novel at all.
I loved this book because I like NYC and I found the 1930’s era so interesting to read about. But to enjoy Rules of Civility you don’t have to like those things too because it offers so much more. This book is a well-written, well-rounded great story from an author that I’ll be putting on my must-read list for future books.