Friday, August 12, 2011

a problem shared

The first two novels I read from this years Booker longlist both dealt with the narrator offering the reader a confession - a tale of their downfall and the part they played in it.

In Miller’s Snowdrops the reader is positioned alongside the ‘you’ that is the narrators fiancĂ© - the one he is confessing all to in the hope that she will still stand by him. We are left to wonder what we would do if we were in her shoes? I felt like we learned quite a bit about the silent English girlfriend, to the degree where I felt I’d like to meet her, to hear her response to Nicholas’ tale.

As backdrop for the confession we get a swift portrait of Russian, mostly Moscow, and these details were skilfully handled, for me Miller at his best. He scatters contrasts between beauty and corruption liberally through his pages. However, after a while it felt like he was making the same point over and over and it’s power began to wane.

It is a novel of people more than politics – towards the end it is the lies about childhood and background and the little things that bite more deeply than the bigger deceptions. Love, friendship and the stories we share matter far more than money.

The atmosphere is one of wall to wall suspicion, in Miller’s Russia even the weather can’t be trusted. But in the end even the reader doubts themself, questioning whether perhaps we haven’t missed something, something vital heart of the story that feels strangely absent.

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