Snowdrops by A D Miller
I bought this debut novel at the beginning of the year. It’s had a lot of interest even before it was Booker longlisted. Trying to ignore the hype, I dove in…
It’s a tale of an Englishman abroad. Nick is a thirty-something lawyer working in Moscow. One day, he stops a mugger from stealing a beautiful woman’s bag in the Metro. She is Masha, and soon they begin a relationship. He meets Masha’s younger sister Katya, and their old aunt – everything seems to be going well between them, Masha stays over regularly and he hopes she could be ‘the one’.
Then the sisters enlist his help as a lawyer to do the conveyancing (Moscow style) on selling their aunt’s flat and moving her to a nice new one in the suburbs. Meanwhile, in his day job, Nicholas works on the legal side of corporate finance – always a risky business in Russia. His firm is helping the banks finance a big deal for a new Arctic oil terminal being built by the ‘Cossack’.
You can sense right from the start that his home and work lives will go up the creek eventually. This is telegraphed by the way, now back in England, the novel is written as a confession to his new fiancée – he feels the need to come clean about what happened in Moscow that winter; after reading this, surely there will not be a future Mrs. So why did he go to Russia in the first place?
I gave the easy answers I always did when asked that questions: ‘I wanted an adventure.’
That wasn’t really true. The reason, I can see now, is that I found myself entering the thirty-something zone of disappointment, the time when momentum and ambition start to fade and friends’ parents start to die. the time of ‘Is that all there is?’ People I knew in London who had already got married began to get divorced, and people who hadn’t adopted cats. People started running marathons or becoming Buddhists to help them get through it. For you I guess it was those dodgy evangelical seminars you once told me yuo went to a couple of times before we met. The truth is, the firm asked me if I’d go out to Moscow, just for a year, they said, maybe two. It was a short cut to a partnership, they hinted. I said yes, and ran away from London and how young I wasn’t any more.
Nikolai, as Masha calls him, is just not hard enough to survive long term in such a sleazy, corrupt and cutthroat world. He’s naive and not capable of thinking like a Russian. His neighbour Oleg warns him. His best friend Steve, a journalist who has gone native, warns him. He takes no notice until it’s too late.
I did enjoy this novel, but was also disappointed. Maybe having read other books like Le Carré’s The Russia House and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, I was expecting a bit more intrigue, a bit more real jeopardy. It all seemed a bit low rent for a ‘psychological drama’ as the blurb put it. The real star of the book is Russia itself – from the restaurants and nightclubs to the snow filled streets and freezing weather, and everywhere oozing corruption.
Will it make the Booker shortlist? I don’t think so. Snowdrops is a fine debut novel, but not quite special enough for me. (7.5/10)
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I bought my book. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Snowdrops by A D Miller, Atlantic hardback, 273 pages.
The Russia House (Penguin Modern Classics) by John Le Carré
The Quiet American by Graham Greene