Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

This book (written by an upper-middle-class white man writing from the POV of a working-class young woman) fails on several different counts.

I would love to tell you the plot, but there isn’t one. The unfortunately-named Katey Kontent goes about her charmed life, climbing into the upper-echelons of 1930s New York society. She loves to party and drink, but is also a total bookworm and academic who will wax eloquent on Hemingway and Dickens and who enjoys writing out grammatical rules in her spare time. She is always prepared with a snappy retort and a fabulous outfit. She suffers from the ‘too perfect’ phenomena of female main characters. In an attempt to make her likable, Towles makes her flawless. Perfection isn’t interesting.

Also problematic, as others have mentioned — the author heaps pages on pages of praise on Hemingway, Dickens, and Tolstoy while also going out of his way to jab at female writers, including Buck, Austen and Woolf. Agatha Chrstie is passable because her books are comfortingly “predictable” and “simplistic”. Whether or not this is an implication to the internalized misogyny of women in the 1930s or to the authors own opinions, pages of literary criticism are very out of place.

I could go on about the over-wrought language, the disappearance of seemingly-major characters, and the unanswered plot points. But I think it will suffice to say that this one is just not worth your time.


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