Of course he did: he was meant to. From the moment that thirtysomething British expat lawyer Nicholas Platt sees the beautiful Masha and her sister Katya on the Moscow Metro, he is hooked. It is a honey trap – that much is obvious immediately even, perhaps, to Nick himself. But Nick, falling stupidly in love, sees the city as ‘a crazy mix of filth and glory’ anyway and doesn’t really mind about the what and the why. This debut novel from A.D. Miller, an Economist correspondent for three years in Moscow, was on 2011’s Booker shortlist* and has the feel of authenticity in its descriptions of semi-lawless hedonism and cash abounding. Nick’s Russian is very good, but even he has not grasped the nuance of the word ‘sister’ in translation. And he should probably have been more inquisitive about other familial relationships too. Tatiana Vladimirovna, the girls’ aunt, wants to move out of her grace and favour flat in the city centre to a new-build on the outskirts. Masha wants Nick to help with the paperwork. What’s particularly striking is the novel’s resolute concentration on the personal: by the time Nick has more or less worked out exactly what he is allowing himself to be sucked into, he doesn’t really care. And while what he’s been willingly complicit in is quietly, casually appalling, it is possible to convince himself quite successfully that everything is more or less fine. ‘Snowdrops’ is Moscow slang for corpses which are found buried under the snow after the spring thaw, a pointer to the fate of at least one of the main characters in the book. There is an artificiality to the structure of the novel, which is written by Nick in the first person after the event as an extended letter to his English fiancée, explaining his murky past. But it works because amusing, honest, cowardly, morally bankrupt Nick is enjoyable company for a reader. But speaking as a father, I think I can say categorically that Nick is not marriage material.
* And don’t start me on the extraordinary fact that the Booker judges chose The Sense Of An Ending over this.