AD Miller’s Snowdrops explores the decadent world of post-Soviet Russia, a world where money follows money, where the possession of oil has the loudest voice of all. It is a story of cons, of moral ambiguity, of sex and sin, debasement, corruption.
This is AD Miller’s first novel, and as he was the Economist’s Moscow correspondent, travelling widely across the former Soviet Union, he appears to speak from experience. Any other reviews of the novel state that it is an accurate portrayal of the dangerous mix of extreme wealth and extreme poverty that is Moscow. It seems to confirm all stories we’ve heard of a modern Russia: oligarchs, mafia hit men, mass swindling, and obscene wealth. In my mind this is superimposed on other images I have of Moscow in my mind – a Moscow that is sharp and austere, a home to the weary and the downtrodden. Perhaps both worlds exist at once. I can’t help but wonder though what a Muscovite would say about it if they were to read Snowdrops.
I remember reading an article in an Irish Independent weekend magazine where they were interviewing new billionaire 20-somethings in Moscow; something that stands out in my mind is a mini interview wherein a girl said that she took cocaine because she thought it kept her thin. There are two such female characters in the novel, and they linger in the memory long after the pages have closed because they could be real people, swindling away somewhere, forever pulling their miniskirts down and spiking the icy streets with their stiletto heels.
However, however. Snowdrops isn’t written from the point of view of a Russian. The novel inhabits the world of the expats – journalists, bankers, lawyers. They see Moscow as their wild East, a place to do and be the unthinkable, far away from the prying eyes and knowing smiles of London, Paris, New York. This is a depiction of a 19th century as the newspapers of the day would have seen it – rife with vice, immorality and greed.
Any Cop?: As a painting of a world that I have never truly seen – I have been in Moscow once as a teenager, but was overwhelmed and now can hardly remember anything – Snowdrops is an interesting travelogue. As a thriller, or the crime novel it tries to be, I found myself confused at the finish – what had actually happened. Perhaps it was my inherent bone headedness. Perhaps it was the subtlety of the writing. Or perhaps it was Moscow itself, choosing to snatch back its secrets as soon as it disclosed them.