Saturday, 16 February 2013


With the meteriorite dropping out of the skies onto the Urals this week, (Science of the meteorite ) it seemed like a good time to review my latest read (set in Moscow)- Snowdrops by A.D.Miller. Sounds lovely doesn't it? Well don't be fooled, because the snowdrops of the title actually refer to the corpses that lie buried and hidden in the winter snow, and emerge only as the thaw begins.

"Snowdrops: the badness that is already there, always there and very close, but which you somehow manage not to see. The sins the winter hides, sometimes forever."

This is a chilling, (in more than one sense of the word) tale of modern Russia. Narrated by Nick, a British lawyer working in Moscow who falls for a Russian woman Masha.This is a tale of corruption and deception on many levels, personal and political and the powerlessness of ordinary people to change this.

Nick as an outsider soon becomes caught up in this dirty world of lies and payoffs. The book is full of malevolent undercurrents. His mother comes to visit, and the awkwardness of  their relationship is beautifully portrayed. The lack of honest discussion he has with her seems to echo the self-deception of everyone who works for the newly wealthy men in Russia. They know that things aren't quite right but decide not to look below the surface. Infact it seems to be the novel's central theme. Nothing is as it seems.

Tatiana, the elderly lady his girlfriend has introduced him to, sums up the impasse surrounding the corruption. When Nick asks her if she minds that the people in charge seem to spend half their time stealing.
"Yes, she said, of course she minded, but there was no point putting new people in the Kremlin, because they'd just start the stealing all over again."

Snowdrops was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger in 2011 yet it doesn't read like a classic crime novel. There's no detective, other than the reader, trying to piece together what's going on in this unsettling novel.

It is a gripping story, and paints a  vivid and ugly picture of  Moscow today. The writing is very immediate, (think William Boyd) it was a cleverly constructed novel with interlinking strands. A satisfying read. I have never been to Russia and on the strength of this book, I doubt I ever will! 

Incidentally, the reason why the meteorite was captured on film by a driver, is explained by the Russian practice of mounting cameras on the front of their cars to help settle insurance claims. Kind of says it all really....

Snowdrops - A.D. Miller. Atlantic Books (2011)  Snowdrops
(Other booksellers are available!!)

Similar territory:

Waiting for sunrise - William Boyd Waiting for sunrise

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