Rules of Civility follows Katey Kontent as she is thrust into high-society in post-depression New York. She is like a Soviet cosmonaut navigating a constellation of American stars. The plot rolls through thick and fast, it feels very much like an adventure, and is a fun and entertaining read. In many ways, it feels similar in tone and energy to the Great Gatsby, but less dense. I’m not sure whether that is an artefact of sharing similar time periods and locales or whether it was intentional on Towles’ part.
“As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion….if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, then it’s probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I’ve discovered in life. And you can have it, since it’s been of no use to me.”
My favourite element of the book are the asides that our protagonist, Katey, has for the reader. It made it truly feel like I was listening to an aunt retelling stories from her glory days. In many ways, they serve as her own interpretations of what the rules of civility are, or rather, what they should be. The delivery and presentation is witty, confident, and often funny. These aphorisms are littered throughout and make reading and getting to know Katey a real delight.
“In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.”
Recommended. Amor Towles has produced what is ultimately an exciting and light read, one that I can advocate for a lazy Sunday unreservedly.