Saturday, August 20, 2011
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
I can see why this novel has received acclaim. It is very well written, with an economical sharp style, and the narrative is exquisitely structured. The story is told in the first person by Nick, the lawyer, as a written confession, to his, soon to be bride, about his time in Moscow. He begins the account by describing his reaction to coming across a human corpse that has been revealed with the spring/summer thaw. The title of the novel "snowdrops" is the Russian slang for such a body that has been hidden by the winter freeze only to be discovered, much later in the year, when the temperature rises.
This is the sort of novel that is deceptively simple, but reveals more and more on later reflection. I felt that Miller captured well the free fall, and cast adrift feeling that often accompanies living away from your home country for extended periods of time. Like many, I have been in that situation myself, but certainly did not live anywhere quite so, apparently hedonistic and corrupt, as Moscow. Miller paints an alarmingly disturbing and depressing portrait of life in modern Russia. The most frightening element is that Nick who is in his late thirties during his time in Moscow, and initially seems no more apathetic or self centred than the next person, becomes involved in a sequence of tawdry and ultimately murderous events.
The novel is about moral free fall, and it is very cleverly done, so that like Nick, the reader is seduced, step by step, into thinking that each new slip or dodgy element is really not so bad, or, it is at the very least, understandable. It is not until the conclusion of the novel, once you have put it down, that the full implications of Nick's complicity and self delusion is made horrifically clear.
I can't wholeheartedly say I enjoyed the novel although I admire it greatly. There is no, even tiny, glimmer of hope in this story. It is a tale of moral bankruptcy, with the associated economic and societal elements. I found it shocking and depressing. Don't get me wrong either, the novel is not off putting in a violent or gratuitous way, it is more subtle and unusual than that. I will be sure to read any future novels by Miller, as I appreciate his writing style. He really knows how to craft a story, leaving all but the necessary out. No doubt his journalism background helps with that.