·Karen·'s Reviews > Snowdrops

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
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's review
Apr 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: brits
Read from April 09 to 11, 2012

Dear Mr Miller

May I congratulate you on your debut novel, which I have just read and thoroughly enjoyed? It is, indeed, gripping and fairly addictive, precisely as the reviews promise. The plotting is beautifully crafted, those hints of the disaster to come are dropped to devastating effect. Thriller, yes, but a literary one too: you have a wonderfully expressive lick of language that tickles and delights, and the pleasure that your writing affords is more than the hedonistic joy of a rollicking ride to the chase. There are also the deeper themes of morality and self-deception and the mystery of erotic attraction.

And although I've never been East of Berlin myself, I'm sure that your portrayal of the Wild East is absolutely authentic. A colleague of yours at The Economist, Edward Lucas, writes on The Browser's feature Five Books: I think the country is really run by what amounts to a gangster syndicate which is ruthless in its pursuit of wealth and power, and distorts the machinery of the state in order to achieve that and to perpetrate crimes against the Russian people. So I think Russia is worse than the slightly sanitised picture we get in the media, not least because of libel laws that mean it’s quite hard to write clearly and bluntly about some of the people involved.
In that piece he recommends It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, saying that its author David Satter .. feels that the Soviet Union hollowed out both public and private morality and left people without a moral compass when it collapsed. He highlights some of the extraordinary instances of casual, amoral treatment of people by the system and by other people in the book. It’s quite a pessimistic book. He feels Russia has been poisoned by the Soviet past and until that poison is out of the system it is going to be sickened by it. I would imagine that this is a view that you entirely subscribe to, as the Snowdrop symbolism in your book might indicate.

However I'm afraid that this letter is not mere gushing fan mail. I am intrigued by a question that you may be able to help me with: was it some kind of quibbling doubt about the authenticity of your tale that made you embed it in a framework, a framework that claims the whole book was written by Nick Platt as a confession to his fiancee before the Big Day? I'm utterly at a loss to comprehend why you would find it necessary to make such a pretence? I see from your biography that you studied literature, I daresay you know of Barbara Herrnstein Smith's theory that the fictiveness of novels resides not in the mimesis of the world, but in the mimesis of speaking, of telling. "The essential fictiveness of novels is not to be discovered in the unreality of the characters, objects, and events alluded to, but in the unreality of the alludings themselves. In other words, in a novel or tale, it is the act of reporting events, the act of describing persons and referring to places, that is fictive. The novel represents the verbal action of a man reporting, describing and referring."
Now I would say that this is an accepted convention of novels, not since the very early days of Renaissance fiction have authors felt it necessary to authenticate their narrative by claiming that it is a manuscript that has been discovered and 'edited' rather than invented. That may well have been due to a leftover medieval distrust of 'inventio'. Surely nowadays, we appreciate a well-imagined tale and can accept it as such? My feeling was that in drawing attention to the motivation behind writing down this beautifully crafted story in fact, in the end, detracts from it. Whereas I can believe completely and implicitly in the Moscow that you conjure up before my eyes so vividly, I cannot swallow the idea of a man making such an incriminating confession to the woman he hopes to marry. Unless, of course, he actually wants to back out of the commitment. Ah, is that what you mean? Is Nick deliberately scuppering his chances? Because I don't believe that his wedding will go ahead now - not, I might add, because of doubts based on his moral degeneracy, but rather because he reveals his lack of passion for the future Mrs Platt.

But then, the extra layer of intriguing puzzle is precisely what lifts this out of your ornery thriller category. So maybe that was the effect you desired, to get the reader thinking. Chapeau, monsieur!


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04/09/2012 page 94

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by James (new)

James Murphy Great review, Karen. I agree about his capturing the atmosphere of the wild east. Best part of the novel for me.

message 2: by ·Karen· (last edited Apr 12, 2012 07:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

·Karen· Thank you kindly. Yes, the thrill was in second-guessing the scams, both of them!

That and the sleaze.

message 3: by Bookslut (new) - added it

Bookslut I agree. I recently came across this same device in two other novels, and in both cases found it detracted from the story. I don't need to be fooled, I've signed up for fiction willingly. I know what section of the library this book is from.

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