Rules of Civility Betrays a Society That is Built on Anything But
By Chariander on August 30, 2011
If it weren't for the epilogue, I would have hated this book.
Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoyed reading this 1930s version of Friends (or perhaps Sex in the City?) with its vivid characters and beautiful, beautiful prose. I enjoyed Rules of Civility all the way up until the end which was so unsatisfying as to make me want to hurl my copy out out the window (except that I read the electronic version and therefore that would entail chucking my laptop to its doom).
But here I am talking about the end when you don't know a thing about the beginning, yet.
Amor Towles' period novel centers around the interpersonal entanglements of one Katey Kontent as she struggles to make her way from working-class girl to high-society lady. Unfortunately she's lacking the rule book by which everyone is playing -- a fact she discovers only when one of the men she loves, Tinker Grey, breaks the rules and shows Katey the painting to his Dorian Gray. This does not end as you would expect and Katey, rather than learning to maintain her standards in the face of such uncivil civility, decides this is the perfect occasion to lose her closely held ideals. She becomes a gossip columnist.
If this were set in modern times I would sum it up by telling you to read the front page of any tabloid -- do human scandals ever change? -- but that would omit the best part of the book: the writing. It was easy for me to dislike Katey and her pack of poseurs. It was hard for me to ignore the genius in Towles' writing. He has a way with words, particularly with conversations, that make them so vivid and and multifaceted that I couldn't help but want to hear more.
And then it ended. (No spoilers, don't worry!) The ending was deeply unsatisfying. If you are one of those people who revels in loose ends then stop there. For the rest of us, Towles indulges our gossipy natures by using an epilogue to fill us in on what happened "after" with as many neatly tied up ends as he can muster without making it feel like a sitcom.
Did I like it? I'm still not sure. But I will be thinking about it for a long time.
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