Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility

I have this problem with historical fiction. No matter what, I can’t help but think, “Is this authentic? Would this have really happened? Was this word common?” I question and question every single bit until I’m completely taken out of the story. It’s why my Orange Prize Project ended up with more DNFs than not. A majority of the books were historical fiction and I just rarely enjoy historical fiction. So when I do find one I enjoy, it’s always a bit of a surprise.

So, you’ve probably guessed that I really did enjoy Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. This story of a young woman in New York during the thirties painted such a complete picture of life during this time, I rarely found myself questioning it. There were certain moments throughout the book that I didn’t quite believe, but overall this is the kind of historical fiction I can get behind.

Towles completely embodies his narrator Katey and she is the books biggest strength. This is the kind of book that seems to be made up of quotes, especially about New York City and that certain city magic that exists. I recommend this book for the beauty of it alone, but the pacing and plotting leave something to desire. The first half of the book is much more interesting and engaging than the second half. I devoured the first 200 pages in two days, unable to put the book down to do other things, but I found I liked Katey less and believed her story less toward the end.

Like I said, in a lot of ways, this is a book of quotes. It is a novel of beautiful sentences that come together to form a story and even if I didn’t love the story for every page, I loved every word. This was probably my favorite part, or at least the one that has truly stuck with me:

Presumably, one factor is that each city has its own romantic season. Once a year, a city’s architectural, cultural, and horticultural variables come into alignment with the solar course in such a way that men and women passing each other on the thoroughfares feel an unusual sense sense of romantic promise. Like Christmastime in Vienna, or April in Paris.

That’s the way we New Yorkers feel about fall. Come September, despite the waning hours, despite the leaves succumbing to the weight of gray autumnal rains, there is a certain relief to having the long days of summer behind us; and there’s a paradoxical sense of rejuvenation in the air. […] Somehow, despite the coming winter, autumn in New York promises an effervescent romance which makes one look to the Manhattan skyline with fresh eyes and feel: It’s good to live it again

Unfortunately, I don’t have a page number anymore, but that pretty much sums up the insightful and lovely writing found throughout this novel. I think Towles is the kind of writer that even when he writes an imperfect book it’s still an excellent book. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

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8 thoughts on “Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

  1. I’m sure this is a totally arbitrary distinction to make, but in my mind, I feel like there’s a difference between “historical” fiction and “period” fiction. I don’t even really know how they differ, but I feel like certain books are set during a certain period of time that happened in the past but somehow address concerns and situations that could occur today and so don’t really feel historical and maybe don’t suffer from the same authenticity problems. I’m glad you enjoyed this one; I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I generally don’t care much for historical fiction either, but this seems like the kind of book I would enjoy.

  2. Oh, I know what you mean about authenticity! I get very nitpicky about things like that, too, especially phrasing that I find jarring in the context. I even get like that about epic fantasy, which, when you think about it, is completely unreasonable.

  3. I’m even more excited to read this one now! As we were talking about last weekend (hehe — you know, during Book Bloggers Come to Life), I can definitely appreciate the annoyances that come with reading something set in a distinct time period. I often wonder what’s true and what’s embellished, too, and that can be really distracting. Glad to hear that wasn’t the case with Rules of Civility, and I’m eager to get my hands on it!

  4. I am glad you enjoyed this. I read it last year and liked it for the most part, too. 🙂 I had a few minor quibbles, though. Mainly that characters kind of vanish and I want to know what happens to them…

  5. This was one of my favorite reads of last year so I am thrilled that you liked it!

    There was one line about driving down a street and how the lights of the stores remind one of Christmas lights…obviously can’t remember it exactly, but that was the gist. I had so many lines highlighted in this book that it would have been easier to point out what wasn’t highlighted!

  6. I have so much the same problem with historical fiction! I have to read lots of reviews about how good the historical parts are before I can love a historical fiction book properly. (Well, not always, but mostly.) What really gets me is dialogue that doesn’t sound right — that’s a killer.

  7. I’m glad you enjoyed this one–sometimes I have the same issues with historical fiction as well. I put this one on the top of my list after SuziQOregon raved about it so now I’ll just have to push it up even more. 😉

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