Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Snowdrops by Andrew Miller

Leggy amoral women with high cheekbones, short-sighted lawyers, greedy banks, old world communists, babushkas out of touch with emerging Russia, corrupt policemen, mafia dons, thugs and tricksters, hard-bitten journalists in an alien, vicious, cold, cold landscape. At the centre, a seemingly thoughtful first person narrator, an expatriate who has come to Moscow in the wake of a mid-life crisis that is more generational than individual. A crime story. A Booker nomination. A slim book. You would think paisa vasool, BFB, VFM, right?

Wrong. Consider this:

• A purported thriller that plods inexorably to a predictable and miserable end.

• A protagonist who is lacklustre, morally weak and more importantly unlikeable. You really don’t care what he thinks, and leaving aside the dreary story of fraud, dear reader, this is what the book is about.

• The story is told in the form of a letter by the protagonist to his fiancée –showing him up as even more cold-hearted and apathetic, adding to the readers’ disconnect.

• A story set in modern day Russia that covers and describes every stereotype of modern day Russia. It almost seems like a drunken anecdote stretched out into a book.

What I liked about the book:

• It is well-written. In particular the description of the Russian winter is masterly (Miller starts in mid-September which is the last warm before the cold and goes on up to the last snowy week of May. Which apparently covers the Russian winter!)

• It was one of the few books that I could pick up and put down at will. This was convenient. It is an easy and engaging read without being gripping or draining.

The discussion started with Anu’s apology for having suggested the book. Varun and Pulak pointed out that the descriptions of lawyers and bankers was very much an outsider’s perspective and rather naïve. We inferred that the insight into a Russian mafia or a fraud ring is also false and hazarded guesses on how the book came about.