Rules of Civility by Amore Towles – Book Review

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.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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18 comments to Rules of Civility by Amore Towles – Book Review

  • I’m listening to this now (audio book) and had no idea there is no quotation marks! I think I’m glad I chose to listen to it.

  • Amy

    Oh, I hate it when authors don’t use quotation marks. It’s so distracting!

  • Interesting review. My father was born in 1936 and my grandparents/parents are all from NYC so the places and stories reminded me of stories I have heard my entire life. I adored this book, if only for the connection it gave me to my grandmother.

    Thanks for an honest review, it’s okay not to like every book! :)

  • I can definitely understand your issues with the characters, but I guess their aimlessness worked for me. They all seemed very realistic to me, flaws and all.

  • Well, I kinda like it when I get to see both sides of the thing, and appreciate your honesty. It is a good idea perhaps to look into the audio version.

  • Looking forward to reading this to see if the aimlessness makes me bonkers or works — I appreciate your sharing your minority view! 😉

  • Having engaging characters is very important to me so I probably made the right call when I decided to pass on this one! Great review.

  • I’m not good at historical novels at all – not unless they’re war related. I’m not sure why. I was wondering about this one the other day, and since I have recently had my first impressions proven really wrong, I almost picked it up. I think, though, that it may just be one of those books that I’ll have to be in the mood for.

  • I’d completely forgotten about the lack of quotation marks! Most of the time, I was okay with it, but there were other times where I wasn’t sure if someone had stopped speaking and we were back in Katey’s head.

    I thought you expressed your problems with the book quite well, and you were worried!

  • I am reading this right now and enjoying it so far. I don’t live in the US, so I am sure that is helping things along. :)

  • I skipped this one because I didn’t think that I would like it, so your opinion is justifying my decision. :)

  • Got this one on the book shelf and I was looking forward to it. But no quotation marks? I just hate that in a book! Thanks for giving me an alternate opinion on this one; I never quite buy it when everyone is raving about a book.