Rules of Civility by Amore Towles
Published by Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin
This review will also be known as the one where I fail to fall for the book everyone else is head over heels in love with.
The main character of Rules of Civility is the upwardly mobile Katey Kontent who, despite her name, is not actually a stripper. The story focuses primarily on Katey and her best friend and roommate Eve, who meet a dashing young man named Tinker in a bar on New Year’s Eve 1937, when they’ve already blown their drink money while the night is still young. Both Katey and Eve have something of a thing for Tinker, but he has secrets that have the potential to impact all of their relationships.
Rules of Civility had an incredibly promising start, with an almost heartbreakingly beautiful preface. Towles is certainly a talented writer and has quite a skill with prose, something that remained true throughout the book. However, Towles also commits a crime of punctuation that I find incredibly distracting: the failure to use quotation marks. Instead, dashes were used to indicate dialog, and every time anyone spoke it distracted me and took me right out of the story.
In addition, I simply didn’t care about any of the characters except for Katey, and even her I wasn’t crazy about. Another reader mentioned that she found the characters somewhat aimless but found this to be realistic for the time period. I would tend to agree, but the aimlessness was very unappealing to me because the characters were not developed in a way that let me understand the reasons for their aimlessness.
Perhaps the real problem for Rules of Civility was simply that it fell victim to my as-yet undiagnosed general dissatisfaction with historical fiction based in America, despite my love for American history. It is possible that between this distaste and the lack of quotation marks Rules of Civility never stood a chance, lovely writing notwithstanding.
Don’t take my word as gospel on this, I seem to be in the extreme minority. However, I never managed to get into Rules of Civility, despite giving it the fairest shake I could.
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