10 December 2012

Snowdrops by AD Miller

Thoughts and Reflections

I'm not sure what I expected from this novel. Perhaps something more to do with youth or at least some new spin on an old topic. I expected a degree of violence, knowing that snowdrop in Russian means a body that is discovered in the spring thaw having been hidden in the snow all winter. but I didn't expect the overwhelmingly narrow story that was told. The novel I found was a story of the same old stereotypical corrupt Russia.

Perhaps the story only felt predictable because I know a bit about the time period about which he was writing. But that couldn't be all. Throughout the length of the novel I felt the growing gloom and doom and knew the inevitable long before it happened. I raced through the last pages of the novel, not because they were thrilling, but because I couldn't wait for it to be over. I just needed to confirm my prediction of the ending and stop thinking about the novel. The story failed to portray any Russian in a positive light, but instead fed into the image of the corruption, deceit, slime and murder of an uncaring people. It was nauseating, but perhaps expected from a foreign correspondent for the Economist. The permeating negativism towards Russians grew tiring to say the least. I had wanted to learn something new about Russia and its people from this book, but instead found the same stories of murder, scandal, and corruption. 

Much of what the author described was true and I could certainly identify with his description of Russia's fashions, but I felt his perspective was so limited, so singularly focused that he failed to see anything good or lovely in the culture, people or country. All cultural references mocked Russia, forever painting interesting cultural elements and events as nefarious or backwards. The author simply seemed unable to see anything else, nothing but the corruption. I understand that the author approached Russia in a different context from me. He, as a journalist, is likely forever looking for secrets and scandal to uncover. Happy stories don't really make good news. I was a student, hungry to learn about and participate in the culture. I might swing too far the other way and too easily ignore problems in the culture. Nonetheless, the fact that every single character was out to murder and scam for the sake of money, with the exception of the victims, was as obnoxious as disheartening. It definitely reminds me of the bias with which the news is presented.

The protagonist was an interesting character. In the novel he is telling his fiance in a letter about these past events in Russia. The novel is a confession of his both willing and unwitting ignorance in the events and scams going on in his personal and professional life. He identifies key points where things could have gone differently in both scams, moments where he could have stopped things from going the way they did. On the one scam, he could have prevented a death, on the other, he could have saved large sums of investment money. He novel is a confession of these moments, while the protagonist still struggles under the burden of these mistakes. On the one hand, I found this an interesting element to the novel. Who hasn't felt this kind of responsibility in their lives. On the other hand, it adds to the grim tone of the novel and offers nothing of a brighter future or how the protagonist copes with this burden. 

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this novel and am annoyed at the image of Russia it is perpetuating. I didn't think it was particularly well written and found the plot predictable and despairing. I am continually surprised that this novel was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.

About the Author 
AD Miller was born in London, UK in 1974. He studied literature at Cambridge and Princeton, where he began his journalistic career writing travel pieces about America. Returning to London, he worked as a television producer before joining The Economist to write about British politics and culture. In 2004, he became The Economist's correspondent in Moscow, travelling widely across Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is currently the magazine's Britain editor; he lived in London with his wife, son and daughter. Snowdrops was his first novel. (Biographical information taken from here.)

1 comment:

Lianne said...

Hey Andrea, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book! I was curious about it because it made the Man Booker list but that's disappointing how the author presented Russia =( I guess it's going back down lower on my want-to-read pile