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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 November 2011
I can understand why "Snowdrops" reached the Booker Shortlist, but also why some people think is should not have done so.

On the plus side, Miller puts his firsthand knowledge of Russia to good use by recreating the tasteless materialism and perpetual undercurrent of violence and sleaze in the raw capitalism following the collapse of Communism. He describes well how individuals are inexorably contaminated by exposure to corruption, even if they think themselves to be morally superior, or immune.

In what turns out to be a psychological drama rather than a crime thiller, the narrator Nicholas, a thirty something commercial lawyer posted from London to Moscow, builds up tension as he is gets ever more entangled with the beautiful Masha and her younger "sister" Katya. Even though he suspects they are not what they seem, he suppresses any doubts and passively goes along with them in providing legal support for what is on the surface a simple property exchange without questioning their actions.

I like the introduction to a new vocabulary: "minigarch" for a rich Russian who isn't quite in the oligarch league, "krysha" for the shady character who provides protection and "fixes" things, or "elitny" to describe a smart restaurant or club. Miller is also good on all the different kinds of snow - from the light, damp October snow called "mokri sneg", through the deep heavy snow falling overnight "like a practical joke", the mounds of snow which make walking an obstacle, and finally the end-of-May snow... by which God lets the Russians know he hasn't finished with them yet". He brings home how the weather dominates Russians' lives through the course of the almost unbearably long and cold winters and the all too short hot summers.

There are some striking descriptions of places e.g. of the Moscow river, "the ice on the river was buckling and cracking, great plates of it rubbing and jostling each other, as the water shrugged it off, a vast snake sloughing of its skin."

Likewise, the sharp descriptions of people e.g. of a man who has allowed himself to become corrupted, " He was a short, pale man with thick hair, thick Soviet glasses and worried eyes. I suppose if you wanted to you could say he looked like a sort of compressed and stunted version of me."

On the down side, I wondered whether it was advisable to tell the reader quite so often that certain characters are liars or cheats, or to imply what is about to happen. It might have been more powerful to have left the reader to deduce all this, and only have Nicholas acknowledge his own culpability at the end. As it is, the climax of the book proves underwhelming, like a balloon that fails to burst with a startling bang because so much air has leaked out of it already.

Overall, this is an impressive "first novel". Much of the writing is good, as is the basic plot idea. However it is a quick, absorbing, mildly thought-provoking and moving read rather than the shattering emotional experience it could have been.
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on 9 February 2011
I first heard about this novel on The Review Show on BBC2 and was intrigued enough by the discussion to break my resolution about not buying any more books until (a) they were available for Sony eReader; and (b) I was ready to read them.But right from the exquisite jacket design, I was so gripped with this book that I decided a physical copy was in order. I picked up Sunday evening, and would have happily read it in one sitting if only life hadn't been so tortuously in the way. As first time novels go, this is an enormous achievement. The prose is dazzling and Moscow is evoked in a way that makes this the Gorky Park for the post-Wall generation.

The plot is entirely linear, and is essentially the inevitable forward motion of one man's failure to swerve any of the moral hazards he encounters while working as an expat lawyer in Russia. The narrator is very clear about what a flawed and cowardly creature he is, and yet it is a joy to read on because of the insights he offers into Russian culture and society.

As someone who has lived and worked as an expat in two European countries, I felt this book really nailed that heady sense of possibility that comes with the early stages of living abroad; the feeling that you can be who you want to be, run risks you never would normally take because you've stepped out of time for a bit.To me, this was neatly underlined by the notion that the text was effectively a long, confessional letter from the narrator to his fiancée. During discussion on The Review Show there were those who felt this narrative conceit didn't quite work, but personally I found it added real resonance to the novel. By quietly reminding us now and then that the narrator did actually want his wife-to-be to have a good opinion of him, and to accept him depraved past and all, we were reminded that the real stakes here are moral jeopardy. Depravity is only interesting if those engaging in it have their doubts, and so find their own behaviour wanting.

All in all, this a novel to thoroughly enjoy and admire, and I would have given this five stars if not for two things which began to wear thing by the end. Firstly, I'd have been happier if the two parallel strands of the plot had amplified each other more in some way, rather than simply being two different examples of the same character's moral indifference. Secondly, I found the prose relied a bit too heavily on unwarranted foreshadowing, which then tended not to deliver as big a bang as promised somehow. But overall, there is no shortage of things for the reader to be gripped by, and to admire.

I only hope A.D. Miller is out there somewhere right now putting the finishing touches on his next novel.
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2013
I'm a bit late in reviewing this book which I'd been meaning to read for ages but never bought a copy. Cheapskate that I am, someone swapped with me so at last Snowdrops is crossed off my 'to read' list.

Looking at other reviews, I think some people expect too much. This is a social drama with a psychological undertow, the story unfolding as Nicholas Pratt's relationship with both his clients and his girlfriend take shape.

There is always a sense of dread, the reader knowing pretty much what is going to happen. I've travelled these parts and, for me, it was easy to understand where the author was coming from. He has his characters neatly portrayed. Once the USSR was split back into its composite states and certain people, usually with, at the very least, shady histories ruthlessly pushed their way into gargantuan agreements to cream off most of the commodity wealth whilst Yeltsin drank himself to death, there could only be the natural follow-on by people wishing to mimic these heavyweights.

At the same time, Westerners were always likely to be easy meat. Russia is not alone in seducing foreigners into their illegal activities. Currently Romania and Bulgaria run a similar shop but without the vast wealth that Russia has provided yet they have a certain track record in fleecing people with ease.

Snowdrops develops this so well. The author captures the underlying mystery, the greed of both sides of the coin, the belief that a newcomer to Russia could fit right into the middle of their society. He details, too, the Moscow some of us know but I loved his two word description of one of his colleagues as having a face like a 'perplexed potato'! Football anyone?

Perhaps the most interesting character in the book is Nick's friend, Steve, the journalist who seems to have events and people pretty much nailed down. Maybe the author's previous life resonates inside this character but whatever, Steve sets the eventual outcome with some regret for his friend.

All-in-all, this is a good read and deserving of the praise it has received. I'm not sure if Miller has written any other novels since Snowdrops. He should, his pen is certainly as good, if not mightier, than the backwardness of Russia and its many varied peoples.
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on 15 February 2011
"Snowdrops" has come heralded by just about everybody, including many people on the Amazon sit. Although it's a good read, well-written and very informative about modern Moscow and all its moral uncertainties, I was left with the feeling that I'd read a very empty novel, in which nothing really seems to have happened. The narrator has committed a great ill and been sucked into a moral vaccuum, almost willingly, and the book forms his confession to the girl that he is now going to marry, having returned to England and left Russia (and part of himself) behind. The problem was that, even though he says he's being bewitched by money and power and sex and the temptation to just opt out of morality, it never really FELT like that. It was all just a little bit flat.

A book I could definitely take or leave - I wonder what all the fuss is about!
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on 5 April 2012
An ok thriller with some interesting characters but I was left a little flat at the end. Never having been to Moscow,(and not sure after this if I want to!) I don't doubt that the descriptions were accurate but sometimes I wished the author had spent a little more time fleshing out the characters and a little less time on the location detail. The ending is never in doubt, but I didn't care enough about the narrator to be shocked by his ultimate corruption and betrayal. An easy read, but ultimately disappointing.
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VINE VOICEon 12 August 2011
I bought this debut novel at the beginning of the year. It had a lot of interest even before it was Booker longlisted. Trying to ignore the hype, I dove in...

Snowdrops is a tale of an Englishman abroad. Nick is a thirty-something lawyer working in Moscow, waiting for a hinted at partnership back home. 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'. 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 - nothing is quite how it seems. 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. 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, too passive 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 well-observed 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. Instead 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 2011 Man Booker shortlist? I don't think so. Snowdrops is a fine debut novel, but not quite special enough for me. (3.5 stars)
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on 13 May 2012
This superbly contextualised book is let down by the unrealistic naivety of Nicholas, the narrator and chief protagonist. I was in Moscow in the Gorbachev years - living far from the tourist trail with family and friends of a half-Russian girl - and the author's descriptions of the city (its smells, its workings, its human dramas, its atmosphere) are all wonderfully rendered. But, set aside this, the reader is expected to believe that an international lawyer, born and bred in the UK, could become so woefully gullible when a pretty Moscow girl bats her eyes at him. As the drama unfolds, there are various warning signs that all is not well - each about the size of St. Basil's - which Nicholas goofily ignores. This idiocy is simply not credible and detracts from what could otherwise have been a masterpiece of the genre.
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on 15 August 2012
All I can say is that when the protagonists future wife reads his letter, the wedding will most definitely be off! I had high hopes for this novel, but it went nowhere (apart from the obvious ending) and the spineless main character just lets criminal injustice happen even when he can see it (although how he didn't guess sooner I don't understand). I kept waiting for a smoking gun but all we got was premature ejaculation. Maybe the author should write a contemporary history of Russia/Moscow (maybe he already has - I now don't care) - just stay away from fiction!
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The buried corpse referred to in the tile is only a subplot in this sharp and at times very funny portrayal of the darker aspects of life in Moscow after the fall of `the Evil Empire'.

The city is awash with new (mostly dodgy) money, with newly minted Oligarchs flaunting their flash cars and even flashier women, and into this caldron of corruption stumbles our anti-hero, British corporate lawyer Nick Platt. Nick comes across as a bit of an innocent abroad; although he's in his late 30s he's never had a serious long-term relationship and so a certain type of newly-liberated Russian woman sees him as an easy target. The story is told in the form of a confession written by Nick, now back in the UK, to his fiance shortly before their wedding. There's a real sense of impending doom as he relates how he came to be drawn into the murky world of property scams and corrupt business deals.

Debut novelist Miller doesn't waste his words but still has a wonderfully descriptive turn of phrase - both the grim (but strangely beautiful) snowy Moscow setting and the visual peculiarities of his characters are vividly portrayed (one is described as having "a face like a perplexed potato").

On that note I have to say that at times the characters did feel a little cliched - the women are either hefty shotputter-types or gold-digging would-be prostitutes and the men all seem to be members of the Russian mafia - but as the saying goes "it's a cliché that most clichés are true"! AD Miller worked in Moscow for three years as a correspondent for The Economist and has said in interviews that he never intended 'Snowdrops' to be seen as a true depiction of modern Russian life. With this in mind, I enjoyed it as a very entertaining, perceptive and darkly funny read.
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on 30 December 2010
A.D.Miller's first novel,and set in Moscow,is a very assured
and thoroughly enjoyable debut.
The novel is written as an address by Nicholas-to his future
wife,detailing the events of his last winter in Russia.
Nicholas is a lawyer in his 30's working on large corporate
deals in Moscow.His rather drifting life changes with a chance
meeting with an attractive young Russian female,Masha.During
their time together Nicholas becomes enmeshed in the endemic
deeply embedded corruption,from which it seems impossible to
escape.
Very entertainingly written ,with wry and often understated humour,
the book not only gives an interesting take on Moscow,but also
skillfully shows how the fundamentally decent Nicholas almost
inevitably becomes part of the prevailing amorality.
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