This book is an absolute gem that I will definitely be reading over and over and over again. If the cover art doesn’t instantly pull you…
…then let’s have a little chat.
I have to admit, I went into this novel with low expectations because a friend of mine said it didn’t live up to hers. However, by page two I was walking around my house with my nose in the book (and I have the bruises to prove it). Seriously. Page two.
I’ve grown up with a special affinity for three things: books, old movies, andNew York City. This book encompasses all three so elegantly. The setting, characters, and beautiful prose transported me immediately to an old movie with the likes of Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, and ol’ Blue Eyes. The atmosphere was introduced so comfortably, it didn’t feel at all ‘forced’. The descriptive words were minimal and dialogue was always to the point, and yet you could see, smell, and hear everything as if you were standing right there with the characters.
The book follows Katherine (Kat, Katey, Kathy) Kontent (pronounce con tent, not con tent) through the year 1938–the year where all the smallest decisions led to the shaping of her life. The story starts off with Katey being friends with what seem like two highly prominent characters-Eve, her best friend and roommate, and Tinker, a handsome, gentlemanly banker. When circumstances go awry, Eve and Tinker become ghosts in the background, breathing whispers back into Katey’s life on occasion through the book. While both Tinker and Eve come back into Katey’s life, although never having truly left, we get an unusual insight into different human personalities and how society makes or breaks them. Without having met Tinker and Eve, Katey would not have been introduced to the opportunities that sprang her way the rest of that year. We come across a host of lively, vibrant characters, all with the most interestingly crafted personalities. Towles made even the most insignificant characters come to life with one sentence. Incidentally, the doormen and elevator boys ofNew York can be fantastic sources of entertainment and information 😉 These chance encounters went on to shape the rest of Katey’s year and, eventually, her life.
I absolutely loved Katey. She’s 24, finding her feet, living in the present but learning from the past every day. She’s a voracious reader and isn’t afraid to give a new situation her all. While the story is told from a first person perspective, I didn’t find it tiresome to be inside her head. She has a quiet, elegant way of narrating her experiences, good or bad. I also enjoyed the personal touches put in, like a line or two of wisdom from her father or simply what she feels when reading a Dickens or Agatha Christie novel. I may be entirely wrong on this, but at those moments I felt that it was more Towles speaking to me than Katey and yet it was very fitting. It was endearing to see an author put a bit of himself right into his characters without taking over the entire storyline. Katey will be one of those characters that stays close to my heart. She’s a big part of why I’ll be revisiting these pages through the rest of my 20s in the very least. She reminds me of myself and at the same time of who I want to be.
I think it’s absolutely fantastic that this book was written by a man. To have such an understanding and command over what a woman of Katey’s age thinks and feels, and to master telling the stories of both men and women alike so unwaveringly accurately is phenomenal. Amor Towles has definitely got my admiration.
I could go on and on but part of the sheer delicate and dirty beauty of this book is navigating it yourself. So pour yourself that martini, put on that soft jazz record, and settle down someplace comfortable–you’re going to be there awhile. It’s time to drown yourself inNew York City, 1938. At the end of the book, you’ll be able to sigh along with the rest of us. “Doesn’tNew York just turn you inside out”.