Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

A small novel with big ambitions.

This is a very slim volume, with a blurb which mostly quotes fashion magazines. Don’t let that put you off. I picked it up because the cover was pretty and unusual, and flicking through a few pages I was interested enough by the style of the writing and the setting to take it home.

It’s a difficult book to describe- it’s deceptively simple or unexpectedly complicated and it lingers in the mind after you’ve finished it.

Following the life of Katy Kontent, a second generation Russian immigrant living in New York in the 1930s, the novel doesn’t follow any expected paths. It’s not really a romance, nor a coming of age story, though the main characters fall in and out of love and Katy certainly grows up.

One of the stars of the story surely has to be the glamour and beauty of the setting. Everything shines, everyone is beautiful, air travel is opening up new horizons and even if you’re worried by the Depression or the stirrings of war, there are plenty of gin cocktails to take the edge off things.

In the end the book is about what it takes to be happy and the prices we pay for the choices we make. It’s not the book I expected it to be, and I’m very glad of that. If you enjoy beautiful writing, ambiguous characters or books that make you think, I recommend this one.

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