Monday, 27 January 2014

Rules of Civility - Amor Towles



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This was a delight to read for very many reasons - and I loved the title - straight from George Washington's own Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, which are reproduced at the back of the book.  It's set in the late 1930's in New York city.  The teller of the tale is Kate, or Katya, or Katherine, or Katie... depending who is talking to her or what she is calling herself.  So - real name Katya, mostly referred to as Kate, is in her late 20s, working in a typing pool, and has for a best friend Eve, short for Evelyn, a party girl and no mistake.  They are room mates at a cheap boarding house for ladies and as the story begins, they are off to a second rate jazz club.  There, by chance they meet the first of several new people who will change their lives.  His name is Tinker Grey.  He has a gold cigarette lighter and a lot more besides.

The taste of that decadent time with very dry martinis, cigarettes, and bad behavior is tangible in this wonderful novel; written by a man, told in the first person by Kate, a girl - and he has certainly nailed it.  It can sometimes be hard to imagine yourself in certain circumstances, particularly those you have no experience of;  imagine if you were living through those circumstances?    You can do exactly that by living them through Kate.  The friends she makes, the friends she loses;  the fabulous job she gets, for a new Conde Naste magazine, the parties she goes to, the men she sleeps with.   Sounds light and frothy?  No, it isn't - it's deeper than that, and at a point near the end it brought me to tears when a totally unexpected knock on her door brings a Christmas gift and some memories.

Well done, Mr Towles.  You're going to have to go some to top this first novel.  I'm waiting!