Love glamorous, historical dramas? Longing for something similar to The Great Gatsby and Breakfast at Tiffany’s which mingles fab frockage with jazz, cocktails, art, photography, bars, grand homes, and high society in New York? Then I think you’ll also love Rules of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towles.
Mr Luscious gave me a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday so I went looking for things to read which had a historical bent. So imagine my delight when I came across the description of a book which combined my love of 1910s-1930s style, with one of my favourite cities, New York.
It’s set in 1938 Manhattan, and covers the transformational year-in-the-life of our heroine, 20-something Kate who works in magazine publishing, her best friend Eve, and the enigmatic Wall Street banker, Tinker Grey. Yes, “Fifty Shades of Grey” fans, that’s right, here’s another rich, handsome and charming Mr Grey.
Like protagonists Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” and Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, we get to view New York society through the eyes of an outsider-who-becomes-an-insider, Katey Kontent, who rises from the secretarial pool to magazine editing.
Rules of Civility: The soundtrack
Jazz – my favourite form of music, equal to classical – features heavily throughout the book, so I was delighted to find that there is an accompanying playlist. Read the introduction from Amor Towles and check out the playlist here.
Here’s one of the tracks, “Don’t Be That Way” by Benny Goodman:
Here’s the official synopsis for “Rules of Civility” from Amor Towle’s website:
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year-old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.
The story opens on New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle.
Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.
If you early 20th century history, you might enjoy these photo galleries:
- New York retrospective
- English Country House Weekend style of the 1910s-30s
- Films and TV shows set in the 1910s, 20s and 30s
- Edwardian frockage from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
- The Crawley sisters from Downton Abbey
- Downton Abbey
- Flapper frockage: Inspired by the 1920s
- Flapper fashion: 1920s frockage
- Art Deco illustration
- Bauhaus architecture
Recommended reading and viewing:
- Washington Square by Henry James: book
- The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: book and movie
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: book and movie
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: book and movie
- Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle: movie
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote: book and movie (note: the novella and film are very different from each other)
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: book
I’ve also heard that “A Time to Be Born” by Dawn Powell is similar to “Rules of Civility” with its pre-WW2 setting in New York society.
Have you read it? What did you think?
Who was your favourite character? For me, it was Wallace. A fascinating, touching portrayal.
Which other books/films do you suggest?
And who should be cast in the film version?
More lusciousness here: