Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 7, 2011

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Snowdrops

This year’s Booker shortlist has somehow passed me by, but longlisted Snowdrops interested me because it’s set in Russia and I’ve embarked on a bit of a Russian Readathon in preparation for my trip next year.   However, I’m hoping that the author has taken a good deal of fictional licence with his setting, because it paints an alarming picture of post-Communist Moscow.  (Ubiquitous drunken taxi-drivers, for a start!)

It’s a psychological thriller, quick and easy to read, though not quite unputdownable, I found.  The central character is a rather dreary young English expat lawyer seduced by more than just the pretty Russian girls who chat him up one day on the Metro.  In post-Stalinist Moscow, Nicholas Prat Platt sorts out contracts for major construction companies, and it’s no spoiler to alert you to the fact that the project he’s working on is corrupt, because any mildly competent reader will work that out in five minutes flat.  We all know about corrupt Russian oligarchs anyway, right?

But the big giveaway is that Nicholas is confessing this unedifying tale to his new fiancée, and he very soon tells us more than enough to know that he’s done things he’s ashamed of.  So the interest is only partly to do with what he’s done, with whom and how, but more importantly, the ‘why’.  The author is interested in how easily people can lapse into moral turpitude if to start with they have no strong ethical background – or what we used to call a ‘conscience’.  It’s probably no coincidence that the central character is a lawyer, though in the light of recent scandals in Britain it could just as easily have been a politician or a news executive…

It’s a tawdry tale about a tawdry city in a tawdry society, yet somehow Moscow manages to intrigue despite the ticky-tacky tourist souvenirs, the seedy bars and the shabbiness.  Ordinary Muscovites seem almost heroic as they negotiate harsh winters made harsher by the corruption of capitalism that flourishes without the good governance that protects most Westerners from its excesses.  The elderly – who have against the odds managed to survive the war and Stalin and Siberia – are depicted most poignantly because they are the most vulnerable, (just as they are in the west where drug addicts choose them as easy targets for grab-and-dash street crime).

Yet there is something rather likeable about Nicholas despite his flaws.  He is so naïve, it’s almost painful.  He went to Moscow in the first place because he wasn’t getting anywhere back home in Luton, socially, professionally or in his love life.  The man is a loser trying not to be one in his new get-rich-quickly job that allows him a flash apartment and money he can splash around on girls and cabs and glitzy restaurants.  But by the time we finish reading this confession we suspect that the new fiancée will give him short thrift when he gets back home, though whether that will because of his shameful professional behaviour or because of  his pathetic sexual adventures in Moscow isn’t revealed.

Snowdrops isn’t up to winning the Booker, in my opinion, but it was an interesting book all the same.

Tony at Tony’s Book World found it reminiscent of Graham Greene.

Update: See also Mark’s enthusiastic review at Eleutherophobia.

© Lisa Hill

Author: A.D. Miller
Title: Snowdrops
Publisher: Atlantic Books 2011
ISBN: 9781848874541
Source: Kingston Library

Availability:
Fishpond: Snowdrops


Responses

  1. Hi Lisa,
    We wrote I entries on ‘Snowdrops’ less than a week apart. Great minds must think alike.
    Seeing as you are going on a trip to Russia, I can understand why the stories of drunken taxi drivers might bother you.

    • Great minds *amused smile*

  2. Lisa – you made me laugh with your ‘prat’! It was an odd book this one, I found Nicholas really annoying and I couldn’t quite decide if it was bad writing or totally intentional. I grumbled to myself all the way through but like you found it easy enough to read. Glad it didn’t win the Booker though.

    Your trip sounds fantastic. Maybe there will be some more Russia inspired reading before then?

    • Yes, indeed, Tracey, I am gathering together a small TBR of contemporary Russian novels and will be making a start on them in the new year.
      I can’t wait to see St Petersburg and the Winter Palace!


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