We began this year’s discussion group with a novel set in late 1930s Manhattan, The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Most participants gave it a favorable review, but critics felt that the main character—smart, beautiful, martini-loving Katey Kontent—was not authentically feminine for a woman of that decade. However, the book’s strength was the author’s attention to detail and ability to make Manhattan come alive.
- The novel’s major theme was exploring the consequences of the choices we make in life, especially early in life when our choices don’t seem to matter, but really do.
- The book’s frame, a flashback, and the exposition, which reveals that the romantic relationship we will read about does not last past one year, act together to create both a sense of inevitability (“we know what’s going to happen”) and mystery (“but I wonder how they get there…”).
- Katey, the protagonist, is bright and able to fit in easily. She is also a social climber and perhaps not so different from Tinker.
- Tinker, Katey’s love interest, learns that self-actualization makes you happier than money does. Once he is free of being a “kept man,” he feels relief and happiness despite having lost his social status.
- George Washington’s Rules of Civility appendix was charming and most of us spent some time reading through the 110 maxims. After reading them, the novel’s title becomes a little more tongue in cheek.
Towles’ strength in writing is his accurate and beautifully unexpected portrayal of the time period’s details. Despite some unhappiness with the accuracy of his characters, this book is full of interesting topics and recommended for book clubs.
In February we’re discussing Arcadia by Lauren Groff. Pick up a copy and join us on February 11.