10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable, but slightly insubstantial fare,
This review is from: Rules of Civility (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)This quirky novel, set in 1938, portrays twenty-something life in pre-war Manhattan, through the eyes of Katey Kontent and her glamorous young friends. In particular, we learn about her complicated friendship with Theodore "Tinker" Grey, a charming, rich, and fun-loving banker, who keeps a copy of, and perhaps lives by, 110 "Rules of Civility" set down by the young George Washington some 150 years earlier. Katey, and her room-mate Eve, meet Tinker in a jazz-bar on the last night of 1937, but their competition for his attention does not undermine their friendship. Both thematically and chronologically the novel is roughly half way between "The Great Gatsby" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's. Katey is looking back on her pre-war life after being reminded of Tinker by coming across two photographs of him at an exhibition many years later. Since the two photographs portray him under very different circumstances we know right from the start that Tinker may not be all that he seems.
Katey is ambitious and intelligent, but very nice with it - she scarcely has a bad word for any of the other characters, and is determined to live life to the full, fuelled mainly by martinis and her boundless optimism. But, while Katey would probably be very good fun in real life, her story does not make for a very gripping novel. Although the writing is often amusing and insightful, and there isn't a dull page to be found, I felt the book would have benefited from more changes of mood: while I was always interested to find out what will happen to Katey next, I never doubted that it would be fun. Even when bad things do happen, Katey picks herself up so quickly that I could never be very worried for her. It is this lack of variety which prevents me giving this novel the four stars I feel it nearly deserves.
This is a first novel by a male writer, so I assume Amor Towles has not experienced life as a young woman in 1930s New York at first hand, but I was very impressed with how vividly the city is recreated. In the acknowledgements at the end the author pays tribute to his grandmothers, so perhaps their stories have inspired his. This is a very promising début novel, and I'll be interested to see what this writer comes up with next.