Monday, August 8, 2011
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Before reading Snowdrops by A.D. Miller, I read several reviews from both sides of the fence. This appears to be a book that readers either love or hate and if that's the case then I'll have to put myself in the former category. This is the first book I've read that's on the Man Booker longlist and because I so enjoyed this one, I'm eager to read more Booker longlisters. Snowdrops isn't a great novel but it's a pretty darn good one.
Nick Platt narrates this story as a letter to his fiancé. He recounts the time he was a British lawyer working in Moscow in the early 2000s. Nick, who would probably just be an ordinary man in London, is stimulated by his expat lifestyle and the hedonistic offerings that this new Moscow displays. One day in the subway, he rescues two girls, Masha and Katya from a purse snatcher. These two supposedly sisters enter his life and Nick quickly falls for the beautiful Masha. But does she feel the same for him? The sisters ask Nick to help their elderly aunt buy a new apartment and as the intrigues pile up Nick's moral compass slowly spirals out of control.
This is a book about an ordinary man's moral decline from naiveté to complicity. I thought Miller handled the character study quite well. Nick is a weak man who just wants to be 'cool' and in this modern Russia with these beautiful women he's finally given that opportunity...at least in his eyes. Even when he knows things are not quite what they seem, he keeps plunging ahead, ignoring all the warning signs. Many reviewers thought this was unrealistic but I know that there are certainly people who can become so consumed with the excitement of their new life that they turn a blind eye to everything. Masha and Katya are not sisters, the aunt isn't really their aunt, Masha doesn't love him. Nevertheless, Nick continues to spend time with them and even when everything is over (spoiler alert) he still desires to be back in that world with these people. That's the sad and surprising part and here Miller excels because he leaves so much food for thought.
As I'm writing this review, I'm actually appreciating this novel even more. On the surface it appears to be just a simple and predictable thriller but it's actually not. It has a lot of depth and complexity underneath. There is so much to discuss. Snowdrops will certainly make a good book club choice though I'm sure it will divide the group. I already know that many bloggers didn't like this novel.
I thought the descriptions of the Moscow winter were fantastic. I read this book whilst in a tropical climate and I could feel the cold and the snow. I thought Miller excelled in his character study of Nick and the end result. Human beings are complex after all and who are we to judge how a person will react in certain circumstances. The glittering Moscow night life was also described very well, obviously by someone who's experienced it first hand (Miller is a former Moscow correspondent for The Economist). Reviewers mentioned that this shows a negative view of the city but you know it's probably true. While every country has a positive there's also a negative especially in a country such as Russia, stifled for so long and then suddenly thrust into so much freedom.
While googling for other book blogger reviews, I surprisingly came across a positive review of this novel from a Russian journalist who actually found the plot and Moscow descriptions realistic. Do check out his review here: Endless Falls Up
I think this book, though not an obvious choice, deserves to be on the Man Booker longlist and since it's the only one I've read, I hope it makes the shortlist.