Book Review: Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Book 'Snowdrops' by A.D.Miller‘Snowdrops’ is a Moscow slang term for the dead bodies which end up buried under snow, revealing themselves as it eventually begins to melt in the spring. The book is written as a confession from Nick, an English lawyer who has spent some years living in Moscow, to his fiancée. It is also a justification, an explanation of what happened and an attempt to understand why. He is brutally honest and, from the beginning, you sense that something went badly wrong, but it isn’t until near the end that all is revealed.   

Nick describes how he met Masha and her sister Katya in the Metro one day. One thing leads to another and he begins to fall in love. They introduce him to their Aunt, Tatiana Vladimirovna, and eventually they come up with a scheme to help her move to a new apartment, further out of Moscow. While he becomes more and more involved in the lives of these three women, Nick is also negotiating a big business deal for his firm, involving large sums of money. It seems unconnected at first, but in the end he realises just how naïve he has been.

You can tell that A.D. Miller has spent time in Moscow. It is described in a tangible way, with details that conjure up an alien world through the voice of an expat, someone who understands but also doesn’t understand the Russian way of life. I’ve been to Moscow. I remember the freezing temperatures and the snow. Miller’s description of the cold Russian winter is so real that you can almost feel it as you read, and throughout the novel there is an otherworldliness which is uncomfortable, almost disturbing:

“… a line of old women were standing and moaning hymns under the yellow street lights, waiting to see whichever repatriated icon – some lock of saintly hair or scrap of holy kneecap – was on display inside. They looked unreal, like extras in a film set, there in that city of neon lust and frenetic sin.”

The novel is written as a confession to Nick’s fiancé and yet, it is packed full of intimate details about his relationship with Masha. It seems nostalgic, as if he is deluding himself into believing that it was real even though he knows that it wasn’t, convincing himself that his actions were reasonable because he was living in a world of corruption and vice. Although as a reader you know that something must have gone wrong, you do slip into believing him at times, like when he describes their weekend at the Dacha as “my happiest time, the time I would always go back to if I could”.

The details of the story, which at first seem incidental, gradually come together, as Nick begins to discover that everything is not quite what it seems. There is his strange, lonely neighbour, Oleg Nikolaevich, who is worried about his missing friend. There is the orange Zhiguli, parked on the street outside his apartment for a suspiciously long time, and then there is his firm’s business deal, involving vast sums of money, and the clues which seem to indicate that Masha and Katya have not always been telling him the truth.

And yet, even as he begins to suspect, he continues to go along with their plans, reluctant to stop, now that he is so involved, reluctant to admit that he has been duped and still enjoying the pretence:

“It wasn’t real, I can see that now, maybe I could even see it at the time… and it would have been a shame to spoil it… It would have been tricky to go back from where we’d already got to.”

This is an incredible book, not like anything I’ve read before. Miller succeeds in drawing you into Nick’s world. You want him to succeed, you want it to end well, even though you know that it can’t. The opening scene is like an omen of what’s to come – death and realisation. The story seems to prove that, in Russia, corruption is everywhere, and you don’t know what you’re capable of until it’s too late.

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  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness

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