book review: Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

The backstory: Snowdrops is the first novel by A.D. Miller, who served as the Moscow correspondent for The Economist for many years. It was shortlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize.

The basics: Set in the last decade in Moscow, British lawyer Nick Platt narrates his story to his fiancee to explain both what happened during the time he lived and worked in Moscow and how it shaped who he is now.

My thoughts: I've read several novels set in Russia in the past few years, but all of them have been historical. In many ways, Snowdrops felt like a follow-up for me. I could see the impact of Russia's history in Platt's view of Moscow.
"In Russia, there are no business stories. And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories."
This novel is part noir and part exploration of Russia, and I found both parts complementary and moving. For such a short novel to accomplish so much is a testament to Miller's writing. His descriptions and characterizations are biting and illuminating, including this one for a minor character:
"Steve was technically British, but he had been trying to avoid England and himself for so long and in so many far-out places--Mexico for three or four years before Moscow, I think, and before that the Balkans, and before that somewhere else that I an maybe even he can't remember--that by the time I met him he had become one of those lost foreign correspondents that you read about in Graham Greene, a citizen of the republic of cynicism."
At the crux of the novel is Nick's relationship with sisters Masha and Katya. They are mysterious and enticing in a classic noir manner. Even as Nick tells this story to his fiancee, he still speaks of them with an intoxicated reverence.

Favorite passage: "Maybe to be this immoral you've got to have religion somewhere--some decrepit gods lurking at the back of your mind, gods you are determined to defy.

The verdict: Snowdrops is everything noir should be. It's creepy and disturbing in very real ways, and I shared Nick's increasing sense of helplessness. I was eager to see how the novel would end even though I would stop short of calling it a thriller. It's a portrait of a modern city and one man's time in it.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: February 22, 2011
Source: my local public library

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  1. I know so very little about Russia... Starting with something more modern like this would probably be a good idea. I'm not completely sure what noir is either lol.

  2. Oh my, that quote was just wonderful, and that alone made me want to read the book! I love to read about Russia, and it sounds like this book would give me a picture of the place that would be new to me. This was an excellent review, by the way. I am adding this one to my list right away.

  3. I think I've only read books set in Russia during WWII so this sounds fascinating to me. I'm glad to see one more of the books shortlisted is so great!


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