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SHORTLISTED for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
An intense psychological drama that echoes sophisticated entertainments like Gorky Park and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Nick Platt is a British lawyer working in Moscow in the early 2000s—a place where the cascade of oil money, the tightening grip of the government, the jostling of the oligarchs, and the loosening of Soviet social mores have led to a culture where corruption, decadence, violence, and betrayal define everyday life. Nick doesn’t ask too many questions about the shady deals he works on—he’s too busy enjoying the exotic, surreally sinful nightlife Moscow has to offer.
One day in the subway, he rescues two willowy sisters, Masha and Katya, from a would-be purse snatcher. Soon Nick, the seductive Masha, and long-limbed Katya are cruising the seamy glamour spots of the city. Nick begins to feel something for Masha that he is pleased to think is love. Then the sisters ask Nick to help their aged aunt, Tatiana, find a new apartment.
Of course, nothing is as it seems—including this extraordinary debut novel. The twists in the story take it far beyond its noirish frame—the sordid and vivid portrayal of Moscow serves as a backdrop for a book that examines the irresistible allure of sin, featuring characters whose hearts are as cold as the Russian winter.
From the Hardcover edition.
Publishers Weekly Review
© Publishers Weekly
Thoughtful, understated look at life
I enjoyed the author's thoughtful and understated approach to a complex world that is foreign to me. He made a strong case for how the reluctant anti-hero gets pulled along in events that swirl around him. His capture of the economic development seemed entirely believable. You care about all the characters, small, large, good, evil. At the end I did I not want to stop.
Not Booker material. And not a thriller.
I've seen this billed as a thriller in several places, but it sure isn't very thrilling. It's more in the way of a travelogue about life in Russia. It's very fluently written, and if you're interested in learning about life in post-Communist Moscow, you could probably do quite a bit worse. But as it is mostly a description of the city and what goes on there, with some stereotypical, two-dimensional Russian characters and a couple of obvious, run-of-the-mill Russian scams thrown in (I guess they're supposed to be the "thrill"), to me it often dragged.
That is was nominated for the Booker debases the prize. There is no character development to speak of, and no insight into people or human life. The plot is extremely thin. The writing is highly competent, but nothing more. Surely there were higher-quality novels published in the Commonwealth this year.
This year's Booker controversy surrounded the comment that one panel-member apparently made to the effect that they were looking for "readability" this year. That's about all this book has. I've read three of the listed books so far, and only one, The Sisters Brothers, comes anywhere close to being credible as best book of the year, although even there it's a stretch. Pigeon English was a fun read and often funny, and it was better than Snowdrops; but really it's hard to see it as Booker material either. I think the criticisms of the panel are justified.
100 Words or Less
When I went to write this review, I actually had to read a quick plot summary to remind me what it was about. Never a good sign.
It’s not a bad book. It seems to have insights into modern-day Russian society and lawlessness … though I couldn’t help but feel it was all stereotypes and cardboard characters. The writing style was good, but overall it had no real depth.