Reading Rules of Civility was bliss.
I came across Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow when I was rummaging through a bookshop in London looking for a good holiday read. I don’t usually want a big blockbuster in those circumstances, I want something engaging, not stupid but not too intellectually demanding either. Just a good story, well told.
And it was a nice choice, if I say so myself. This is a joy of a book – beautifully understated, engaging and with wonderful characters.
Everything about it made it the most unlikely kind of best-seller. It was interior, quiet, reserved and there was very little action. It sat right in the middle of so much historical drama – but that mostly happened off stage.
There were aspects that were maybe a bit set up, but I forgave it everything for the warmth and affection that came through on every page.
The central character, with the overly cute name of Katya (Katie) Kontent, is the daughter of a Russian immigrant, determined to make her way in New York. She has excellent typing skills and a competent demeanour.
In her boarding house she meets Eve, who has rejected her family’s money and is finding her own way, too. The friendship they form is forged in fun and independence.
One broke New Year’s Eve in a dingy jazz club they meet Tinker – handsome, likeable and well-heeled. Their friendship blossoms, and seems unshakable until a damaging accident.
The story occasionally cuts into the future, where we glimpse the strengths and triumphs Katie’s grown-up life. But mostly it’s about how she negotiates her way through issues of money, class, friendship and love in the shadows both of the Depression and WWII.
It’s quite a slow-paced book with undoubted echoes of The Great Gatsby and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it’s certainly not a copy of either.
Katie/Katya is a powerful, principled, resilient character and spending time with her as she negotiates her New York life is a total pleasure.
I loved both books. But I could not put Rules of Civility down.
• There’s been a long gap on this blog, but it’s nothing to do with a lack of reading – just too much work. I’ll catch up on some of the missing books as I go along.