Subscriber OnlyBooks

Table for Two by Amor Towles: Storytelling of the highest order

This is a fine collection of stories and a novella, but one wishes Towles had written several novels instead

Table For Two
Author: Amor Towles
ISBN-13: 978-1529154108
Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann
Guideline Price: £18.99

Amor Towles’s second novel, 2016′s A Gentleman in Moscow, spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. The story he built around his charming hero, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, under house arrest in the Hotel Metropol in revolutionary Russia, was one that you didn’t want to end. His follow-up, The Lincoln Highway, had Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey singing its praises and did similar business.

It might seem obvious but the secret is he knows how to spin a yarn, a skill he displays repeatedly across the six short stories in the New York city section and the novella set in Los Angeles in this collection. Pushkin and his wife, Irina, escape to the Big Apple from communist Russia (“How does one get fired from communism!”) thanks to his good nature in the queue for the Agency of Expatriate Affairs in The Line. The late Paul Auster turns up as a character in The Ballad of Timothy Touchett, noticing something is afoot in a second-hand bookstore. And a traveller gets a bit too involved with another queuer in Hasta Luego.

I Will Survive explains why one should never get involved in other people’s marriages although it is possible to feel joy – and dance – in a partner’s absence, and both The Bootlegger and The Didomenico Fragment illustrate Towles’s deep appreciation for all forms of art.

In the former, a cellist performs the prelude to the first of Bach’s Suites for Cello, and the music transports listeners “beyond hope and aspiration into the realm of joy where all that is possible lies open before us”. The audience “were applauding each other. Applauding the joy we had shared and that had become the fuller through the sharing.”

The novella Eve in Hollywood takes us to the west coast of the late 1930s. Eve Ross, the roommate of Katey Kontent, the oddly named main character in Towles’s Fitzgerald-like first novel, Rules of Civility, took a train off the page back to Chicago in that book, a trip she extended to Los Angeles. Her rollicking tale involves Olivia de Havilland, ex-cops, movie execs, another flash hotel and blackmail. If it hasn’t already been optioned for the screen, it certainly should be.

As with all the best short stories, and even Eve’s novella, the only complaint here is that you wish Towles had written several novels instead. Storytelling of the highest order.

Read More

Recommended