Description

Amor Towles is the author of New York Times bestsellers Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. The two novels have collectively sold more than four million copies and have been translated into more than thirty languages.

 


Review

On the last night of 1937, 25-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

 


Study Questions

1. We are a bit older than the main character, Katey. Did you find her relatable even though her story takes place 75 years ago?

2. Popular literature, movies, and TV often delve into the topic of a character climbing the social strata (think Pride & Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Revenge, heck – even the Real Housewives). Do you think there really is such a strong distinction between classes in today’s society? Why is this such a popular theme?

3. Would you have felt differently if the entire story wasn’t a flashback? I mean, we knew from the start that her husband wasn’t going to be any of the men in the main part of the story.

4. The story features very strong female characters, yet it was written by a man. Do you think the book would have been different if it was written by a woman?

5. Tinker. What’s the deal? What is the motive behind his actions? Are they well thought out?

6. Eve tells Katey, “I like it just fine on this side of the windshield.” Which side are you living on? Have you ever experienced such a watershed moment in your life?

7. Does Tinker remind you of Jay Gatsby?

8. Did Katey accept Val as a viable second while still holding a torch for Tinker?

9. Do you follow the premise that some people can be in love but could never be together and survive?

[Source: Jugs]

 


Discussion

The discussion began with comments about the  rules of civility themselves. These were the ones transcribed by George Washington in his youth, probably about 16. This was called a McGuffin. A McGuffin is the irrelevant component of the work that adds nothing to the content but remains as a continuing thread. The classic example of that is the Maltese Falcon.

In the case of the rules of civility further analysis suggested that there were two components to the rules. They were the moral and ethical fiber such as would be expected of a knight of the round table and the other half would be politeness and good nature in society. In the case of the real rules of civility both factors were in play. If indeed
Tinker did abide to these rules, he probably was more in tuned with the latter but who knows.

The book was enjoyed by all for the most part because of the superb writing of Towles. The characters were interesting but not compelling. Attitudes toward Tinker were varied. For some he got the way he was because he had no choice.
Others thought he was a selfish and manipulative person.

Katie was admired but also seemed to be a climber and an opportunist who lived in an almost “out of body” dream world in the tumultuous year the books events covered in her young life. Discussion about her husband Val, who played only a small part in the book, cast her as being willing to accept the best chance for her that was available.

The character of Walcott was discussed, and he was admired but, in some ways, vilified because whatever advantages he had had were not earned. Others found virtue in him because he did not assume any special position because of this wealth but played it down. There was some question about his involvement in the Spanish civil war and
why any American would want to be involved. That was not discussed further.

The final analysis was that Amor Towles is a brilliant author. This book was in a class with A Gentleman in Moscow.


By Gene Helveston

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