I have this problem with historical fiction. No matter what, I can’t help but think, “Is this authentic? Would this have really happened? Was this word common?” I question and question every single bit until I’m completely taken out of the story. It’s why my Orange Prize Project ended up with more DNFs than not. A majority of the books were historical fiction and I just rarely enjoy historical fiction. So when I do find one I enjoy, it’s always a bit of a surprise.
So, you’ve probably guessed that I really did enjoy Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. This story of a young woman in New York during the thirties painted such a complete picture of life during this time, I rarely found myself questioning it. There were certain moments throughout the book that I didn’t quite believe, but overall this is the kind of historical fiction I can get behind.
Towles completely embodies his narrator Katey and she is the books biggest strength. This is the kind of book that seems to be made up of quotes, especially about New York City and that certain city magic that exists. I recommend this book for the beauty of it alone, but the pacing and plotting leave something to desire. The first half of the book is much more interesting and engaging than the second half. I devoured the first 200 pages in two days, unable to put the book down to do other things, but I found I liked Katey less and believed her story less toward the end.
Like I said, in a lot of ways, this is a book of quotes. It is a novel of beautiful sentences that come together to form a story and even if I didn’t love the story for every page, I loved every word. This was probably my favorite part, or at least the one that has truly stuck with me:
Presumably, one factor is that each city has its own romantic season. Once a year, a city’s architectural, cultural, and horticultural variables come into alignment with the solar course in such a way that men and women passing each other on the thoroughfares feel an unusual sense sense of romantic promise. Like Christmastime in Vienna, or April in Paris.
That’s the way we New Yorkers feel about fall. Come September, despite the waning hours, despite the leaves succumbing to the weight of gray autumnal rains, there is a certain relief to having the long days of summer behind us; and there’s a paradoxical sense of rejuvenation in the air. [...] Somehow, despite the coming winter, autumn in New York promises an effervescent romance which makes one look to the Manhattan skyline with fresh eyes and feel: It’s good to live it again
Unfortunately, I don’t have a page number anymore, but that pretty much sums up the insightful and lovely writing found throughout this novel. I think Towles is the kind of writer that even when he writes an imperfect book it’s still an excellent book. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.