Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

‘For many are called, but few are chosen.’

The novel opens in 1966 with Katey and her husband Val attending the opening of Many are Called at the Museum of Modern Art.  This is an exhibition of photographs taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s with hidden cameras on New York subways.  Katey recognises one of the subjects, and then realises that he appears in two photographs taken about a year apart.  In one photograph he is gaunt and dishevelled, in the other he is dressed impeccably.  He is Tinker Grey, and Katey remembers him.

Katey remembers the night she met Tinker Grey, on the last day of 1937.  Katey Kontent and her friend Eve Ross had gone to the Hotspot in Greenwich Village with the plan of stretching three dollars as far as they could.  By chance, they met Theodore ‘Tinker’ Grey.  This encounter leads to a year of both opportunity and opportunism for Katey and Eve, and we discover that Tinker’s world is not all that it seems to be either.

I stepped into this novel with its flawed characters and glittering possibilities and could not put it down.  What happened to Tinker, for those two photographs to represent such different aspects of life?  Katey is determined to make her way in Manhattan, but it is complicated.  And what about Eve? A car crash changes life for each of them: Tinker wants to do the right thing, Katey finds independence and Eve (eventually) moves on.

And now I am looking forward to reading ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith