Snowdrops is the kind of vicious, cynical little book that I usually avoid because I find it hard to read a book in which none of the characters are sympathetic or valiant, though I know that this probably reflects true life more than I like to believe.
Moscow in the 2000’s – drunken, corrupt, violent and greedy. Nick Platt is a British attorney who’s lived in Moscow for 4 years and up to now has only dipped his toe into the sewer of Moscow’s decadence. Like many ex-pats he’s learned the rules of Moscow’s confusing society by observation and has managed to avoid trouble. Until he meets two young girls in the subway station. Masha and Katya tell him that they’re sisters who’ve moved to Moscow from the country. He’s immediately smitten with Masha. She’s the older of the two and more sophisticated and confident. They begin a mostly sexual relationship, yet Nick feels so strongly about Masha that he wonders if she’s “the one”. The girls introduce him to their Aunt Tatiana, an older widow who eventually asks him to help her switch apartments with a man in the suburbs. Tatiana’s apartment is in a desirable central location and he does briefly wonder why she’d ever want to give it up. However, he uses his skills and knowledge of the Moscow legal system to help her because he wants to please Masha.
Ever so subtly, so slyly, does Miller drop hints that Nick is being taken for a huge ride. I felt anxiety throughout the narrative, knowing that things were going to end badly, but not really knowing how. I imagine this is how Nick himself felt as he ignored all the signs of deceit and blindly followed Masha’s lead. But it is self-delusion because he knows what is going on, his conscience prods him every once in a while and he calmly ignores it.
Most interestingly, this novel is written in the second person, addressed from Nick to his fiancee, telling her about this event that’s taken place in his past. It’s almost written as an excuse for her to change her mind or maybe for him to passively get out of the marriage himself?
There is so much to ponder in Snowdrops. It’s a powerful book for having a relatively action-less, slow moving plot. The descriptions of life in modern Russia are depressing, yet fascinating. I can’t imagine living in a society that is so slippery and lawless. And cold.
I can see why Snowdrops was chosen for the Booker long list, but I wonder if it might be seen as too “trifling” to win. Has anyone else read it ? What do you think?