Katey Kontent is one secretary of many in 1938 New York City, living with her stylish friend Eve and generally just having fun as a single 25-year-old. She and Eve don’t make much money, but they have their routines set at the boardinghouse and consider one another best friends. Then, while out one night, the girls bump into Tinker Grey, a wealthy young man that Kate immediately pegs as wealthy, privileged, and unattainable. But Tinker goes on to make a huge effect on their lives in a pivotal year for both women. Katey vividly learns the results of her own choices and how she has the power to shape her own destiny.
This was a truly incredible read. It sounded fantastic, but I really didn’t expect to end up loving it quite as much as I did. I read it entirely on public transport, which usually makes for distractions, but not with this book, as I was completely and totally absorbed in my Kindle no matter what happened – to the extent that at times I worried I’d miss my stop and had to put it away!
The first and primary thing I loved about this book was the atmosphere. It is so successful at evoking late 30’s New York. The parties, the restaurants, the high societies, right down to the difficulties of Kate’s initial job at the secretary pool and her various fading living spaces. Tinker’s life is vividly contrasted with Kate’s starting position – and then there is the stereotypical older woman, Anne, who complicates everything Kate thinks she knows over and over again throughout the book. It’s a vivid backdrop that explores the nature of wealth, hard work, and simple luck, and rings true as a very American story.
I adored the perspective of single women trying very hard to make it for themselves. The book is from Kate’s point of view, and she is a strong woman – not afraid to be feminine, but constantly reaching for the stars and refusing to settle for anything less than she truly deserves. She has to make a number of choices over this pivotal year in her life, and she learns very sharply that her decisions make her destiny.
The supporting characters are definitely not without their charms and complete the whole picture that the novel makes. Eve is equally determined to escape her past and her well-meaning parents by living it up somewhere she is completely anonymous; Kate’s love interests display that old-fashioned form of wooing; and best of all, the characters are bookworms. They’re often well read, make comments about what they’re reading, and bring me in with the sort of allusions that only another reader would adore.
Rules of Civility completely won me over and I’d happily recommend it to any other reader; it’s just that good.
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