Snowdrops certainly deserved its 2011 shortlisting for the Booker prize. It was entertaining, interesting, beautifully written, funny, sad and tragic.
There are some great lines in Snowdrops. This describes the beginning of summer in Moscow: In accordance with a secret clause in the Russian constitution, half the women under forty had started dressing like prostitutes. It epitomises the book’s dry wit, its criticism of Russian society. The narrator is a cross between Nick in The Great Gatsby and a Raymond Chandler cop. There is the same fine use of language, the precise elimination of empathy and compassion. This book is as serious, and as moral as Gatsby.
The blurb describes Snowdrops as Graham Greene on steroids. It is about the cynicism of western capitalism transferred to the wild west of post Soviet era Moscow, where cowboys don’t ride horses and robbers don’t need guns. The hero absorbs his surroundings and adapts like a chameleon. There is glamour and sex, love and money, but not melodrama. The narrator uncritically accepts what Russia has to offer, closes his eyes to what he does not want to see, and somewhere in the book crosses a line, reaches a point from which he cannot return.
Snowdrops gave me an interesting insight into life in Russia. (I accept the writer’s descriptions at face value. He has been there.) The old woman – veteran of the siege of Leningrad – the young girls – the cheap businessmen. Many of these are stereotypes and could easily become caricatures, but Miller is much better than that.