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A stunning debut
on 17 May 2011
I decided to read "The Rules of Civility" because the blurb on the Amazon page mentioned a jazz quartet in 1937 and stated that the protagonist, Katey Kontent, knew " how to type eighty words a minute, five thousand an hour, and nine million a year and that if you can still lose yourself in the first chapter of a Dickens novel then everything is probably going to be fine". With those two lines, I had already identified with Ms Kontent, despite the fact that I have never been to New York City. If you are a male reader, please do not click away now as this is most definitely NOT chick-lit. In fact, there is plenty of drinking (Martinis and Champagne, primarily), there are cars and even a few guns here and there. Oh, and jazz.
In brief, the plot revolves around Katey and her friend Eve; they meet Theodore `Tinker' Grey, a wealthy young man while celebrating New Year's Eve in a dingy jazz club and, without giving away the story, the encounter will change their lives for ever. A love triangle is among the central elements of this story, but the triangle changes shape at one point and anyway, this is a novel with a story, rather than a plot. It's about love, of course, but also about ambition, social mobility, and that aspirational quality that is quintessential to the mythology of New York City and that will inevitably bring up comparisons with F.S. Fitzgerald's 'Great Gatsby'. Indeed, it would be hard not to see the similarities between Tinker and Jay Gatsby - young men who pretty much incapsulate the American Dream of the early 20th century at the start of the novel and who, by the end, confirm that the dream is just that: an illusion.
A lot of `new' writers are too often hailed as The Next Big Thing to then only disappoint; but on the contrary, I haven't managed to find a shred of information about Amor Towles; who is he? I am amazed at how he managed to create such believable and above all, likeable, female characters. And the male `cast' are equally memorable, none of them too perfect, none of them falling into the trappings of prince charming characterisation that could have taken this book down the pastel cover route.
I would be really surprised if 'The Rules of Civility' didn't become a literary fiction best-seller, as it ticks all the relevant boxes; great characters, gripping storyline, jazz, Martinis and a social commentary; it's peppered with literary references and quotes and I'm sure I won't be the only one reaching for a copy of Thoreau's "Walden" as a result of reading this book. And when a book makes you want to read more books, to paraphrase Katey Kontent, `everything is probably going to be fine'.