Rules Of Civility Needs A Lesson In Emotion

BlogHer Review

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, is an intriguing story full of exquisitely crafted phrases and captivating description. However, what it more than makes up for in language, it lacks in emotion. Populated with more than its fair share of fascinating characters, this book never delves far enough beyond the facade of propriety; rather, the reader is stuck with only a surface view of events. We may be privy to the narration of the main character (a delightfully smart and self assured young woman making her way in 1938 New York), but we are spared the messiness of her true emotions, and as a result the books fails to grip you as well as it should.

To be honest, this book has many things in common with the kind of literary classics that have always left me cold due to their pretentious need to revolve completely around the words themselves rather than making any attempt at telling any type of interesting story with those words, so I may not be the best judge. I didn't feel this book had its nose quite so high in the air -- rather, it seemed like the clever sentences and nimble phrases were the author sharing a joke with us over drinks rather than asking us to worship at the feet of his vocabulary, and the story itself was interesting, if mundane. The set up, having just a hint of the ending displayed in the epilogue and then traveling back to the beginning of the story to fully tell the tale, was very effective and kept me reading, eager to discover how things fell out. But none of the characters seemed to care about anything that was happening to them, which made it very hard for me to care. Love found, love lost, friendships begun and ended, nothing seemed to register beyond a polite handshake or nod of the head. It is hard to feel passionate about characters who move through their own lives as passive observers.

It is possible I just didn't 'get' this book, and others may argue the book is simply filled with emotion and tragedy and joy, and they might be right. I just felt like I was more interested in knowing how the story would unfold than the main character -- and it was her LIFE we are talking about. Beautiful language and an engaging story of real life deserves characters who have been brought to life, rather than merely into existence.


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