145 of 156 people found the following review helpful
Gorky Park for a post-Wall generation,
This review is from: Snowdrops (Hardcover)
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.