Snowdrop. 1. An early-flowering bulbous plant, having a white pendent flower. 2. Moscow slang. A corpse that lies buried in the winter snows, emerging only in the thaw.
I had to put the quote – definition – at the start of this review as I’ve finally come across a shocker on the 2011 Booker Prize long list, that quote above is before the novel starts and is probably the only redeeming snippet of this whole dog’s breakfast.
Story goes something like this, a poor self-absorbed narcissist lawyer decides to write a story for his soon to be bride about the time he spent in Russia, where he met a girl and her sister, a dodgy oil merchant (or some such) called “The Cossack” and he gets conned. That’s about it.
I seriously don’t know where to start with this one….if I had an electronic version I would be able to count how many times the word “like” was used, but at a guess it would be close to 300 (and there are only 262 pages!). For example, like a ghost of Russia past, like flowers on a battlefield, like an extra in some paranoid Donald Sutherland film, so many it becomes a distraction – Mr Miller we do know what a simile is!!!. Next up in the ceaseless descriptions of Russian buildings, roads, monuments etc. now if I was an expat Muscovite I may appreciate it, I’m sorry to say that I’m not and I really don’t need a lesson in Russian town planning.
Then we have the characters….oops that’s a typo, they’re caricatures…..fat old locals spouting nonsense proverbs, Russian brides, strippers, gangsters and the endless taxi driver stories….I’m sure the rash generalisation of every single person who crops up in the book would offend just about every living Russian. All of this is coming from the pen of a self absorbed goose that could of in no way shape or form graduated in Law, and we’re meant to believe he’s penning a confession to his fiancée.
This is meant to have three (roughly) concurrent threads, the boy girl thing, the con-man gangster thing and a feeble subplot about the old man who lives downstairs (I’m not giving much away by revealing the title of this book comes from our narrator’s relationship with this guy), and it’s absurd to have such a miniscule sub-plot which really doesn’t impact on any other part of the story being the title of the novel.
I wish Mr Miller well with his change of career (he was the Moscow correspondent for “The Economist” before writing this his debut novel) and I’m sure a Booker Prize long list to his credit will give him a bit of a leg up. I’m also sure that some big blockbuster Hollywood company will pick up the option on this one as it has the good, the bad, the ugly, the love story, the sex scenes, the twist and the setting. Sorry to say it though, this is not literature and I’m surprised it made the long list.
I could go on but there would be no point. The bookmakers mark this one at 16/1 to take out the prize, you should add a couple of zeros to that price and you’d still be under pricing it. If this makes the short list I would be horrified, if it takes out the gong I personally pledge to hand deliver deliver a letter of complaint to all of the judging panel as they are surely as corrupt as the fake Russian gangsters con-artists portrayed in this book.