At 38, Violet Speedwell is one of England’s surplus women, her fiancé one of many young men who died in the Great War. Weary of her mother’s demands and complaints, Violet takes a position as typist and moves to the cathedral city of Winchester in 1932. Barely making ends meet until she speaks up and gets more hours, Violet finds a satisfying hobby when she joins the Broderers’ Guild, embroidering kneelers and cushions for the cathedral, often while listening to the bell ringers. The story is compelling and absorbing rather than fast-paced, with a strong sense of place and the wonderfully imperfect Violet, who has to talk herself into taking a planned walking holiday. Sure to be popular with book groups, I enjoyed this book more than any of Chevalier’s books I’ve read since Remarkable Creatures.
will be discussed on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 10am to open our fall book discussions. Late 1930s New York City comes to life from the point of view of Russian American Katey Kontent, a secretary from Brooklyn who rooms with Midwestern Evelyn Ross. They meet banker Tinker Grey on New Year’s Eve, 1937, at a jazz club, and both roommates are smitten. Katey’s New York City is full of jazz, art, parties, work, love and loss; partly inspired by the stories of the author’s grandmother. The book is framed by Walker Evans’ photos of subway riders and Tinker’s fascination with George Washington’s Rules of Civility, a booklet of moral and social codes. The trio are involved in an accident that injures Eve, and Tinker feels some guilt and takes care of Eve, even taking her on a cruise to Europe. Katey gets a chance to leave her secretarial job and become a publisher’s assistant, and makes some connections among New York City’s upper class. As the year progresses, the friends grow apart, each charting their own path. Reviewers have compared first novelist Amor Towles’ writing to Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Truman Capote, but I think he has his own unique voice. George Washington’s rules are at the end of the book, and you can view the subway photos of Walker Evans here. For more about New York City in the 1930s, visit the author’s website.