SnowdropsNicholas is a thirty-eight year old English lawyer working in Moscow in the mid-noughties. After a chance encounter he gets caught up in the lives of young, sexy Masha, her sister Katya, and their elderly aunt Tatiana Vladimirovna. Nick falls in love (lust really) with Masha but it becomes clear that the sisters have other motives, involving him in their corruption and deceit. Meanwhile, Nick is also working on a business deal for a menacing man known only as the Cossack.

I was disappointed with Snowdrops, especially given its place on the Man Booker shortlist last year. If you still want to read it yourself then maybe don’t read this first, there are spoilers ahead. Snowdrops is billed as a literary psychological drama, not a crime novel but Miller puts such an emphasis on crime and corruption but then didn’t really deliver. The novel opens with the discovery of a dead body, a murder victim, after the snow has thawed, a ‘snowdrop’. In his retelling of his life in Russia Nick links his memory of the body to the shameful reason he left Moscow. I thought the opening felt risky and dangerous but the plot did little to support my first impression.

The whole time you’re reading you know that Masha and Katya are not who they seem, that Nick is becoming embroiled in their scheme. Miller drops hints in an effort to keep the tension up but what happens ends up being far less dramatic when you can see it from the start. Even if the plot warranted the ominous tone, Miller leads the reader to every conclusion and revelation forcibly, like you’re a child, heavy-handedly hinting at the morally reprehensible acts Nick will commit. Right after they all visit the apartment outside the city the aunt, Tatiana, is swapping for her own, Nick writes, ‘I hadn’t done anything to be ashamed of, had I? Anything you could hold against me? Not really. Not yet.’ It felt like Miller was screaming at me, ‘But he definitely does do something to be ashamed of! And it has to do with selling Tatiana’s apartment!’ Snowdrops tries to portray a moral grey area, a place and time where regular guys can be seduced and beguiled by the promise of debauchery, power and money (I’m not buying that it had anything to do with love). But there was no subtlety in the portrayal.

Nick’s story takes the form of a confessional. Several years later he is writing a letter to his fiancée, coming clean about what happened to him in Russia. Nick is trying so hard to make his fiancée believe that as events unfolded nothing was as it seemed, only in hindsight could he finally see clearly. Unfortunately in his retelling, with the benefit of hindsight, everything is exactly as it seems – the helpless victims really turn out to be helpless victims, the con-artists really are just con-artists. Nick has neatly sorted everything out for the reader. I wanted more ambiguity. I wanted to doubt everything I thought I knew. But the whole time I never had cause to doubt that Masha was definitely a calculating bitch and Nicholas was so stupid (and shallow) to fall for it. First person narrative looking back at past events can be a great way of giving a story insight and understanding, but Nick hasn’t learned anything except to stay away from Russia.

I get that Snowdrops isn’t supposed to exactly be a thriller. So maybe I shouldn’t judge it for not being thrilling enough. But then again, don’t try to be thrilling and fail. It was all kind of shallow, by the end I didn’t understand Nick any better, and I can judge it for that. And Miller’s Russia seemed fairly stereotypical. It isn’t all bad though, it’s well-paced enough that I kept reading, hoping for something more, but it ultimately fell flat. I just really wish Miller would’ve delved deeper into the characters’ psychology.

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