I enjoyed reading Snowdrops while I was reading it, but something nagged at me. About a week after I finished, I finally realised: I am sick of the honey-trap. I'm tired of the nebbishy guy seduced by the "bad" girl. I felt like I'd read Girl Crazy all over again, but set in Russia. Our protagonist, Nick, is a lawyer just moved to Moscow. He's a mediocre sort of fellow, without much in the way of personality, not much success with women, not much of a looker. Nick will be defined by the events around him, pulled along with the flow of cynical Russians, all on the take. Nick does not act, he reacts. Nick wants, but lets others take. Like Russell Smith's protagonist in Girl Crazy, Nick first encounters the conveniently slutty love interest while she's in distress. In this case, he foils a purse snatching. And Masha, after an accelerated courtship, gives him her body (and for extra kink, her “sister” watches). She continues to string Nick along for months, to ensure his help in the caper. (I'm not giving anything away here. Again, this is all foreshadowed in the telling.)
'In Russia,' Steve said, 'there are no business stories. And there are no politics stories. There are no love stories. There are only crime stories.'Nick falls in love anyway. He thinks of marrying Masha, even though he knows nothing about her, and admits as much to himself in the narrative —constructed as a letter to his now fiancée (like in Girl Crazy there's a dull, dependable girl at the end, to act as foil to the wild girl of yore).
That's what I learned when my last Russian winter thawed. The lesson wasn't about Russia. It never is, I don't think, when a relationship ends. It isn't your lover that you learn about. You learn about yourself.Caper accomplished, Masha conveniently disappears so that Nick can get onto being whatever it is he's learned to be. He can go back to England having had the Great Adventure, settle down with his predictable boring late-life wife.
One is supposed to separate the work from the writer. I understand that this is crucial in literary critique. But there are seriously unprofessional parts of me that wonder about A.D. Miller (and since I'm not getting paid for this, being unprofessional now and then is probably inevitable). A BBC piece on Miller says: "Miller's own experiences in Russia were 'slightly more uneventful' than those of his fictional creation". It makes me wonder if he wishes that all this had happened to him. If he saw all the strip clubs and easy sex, the women he writes about as desperate to find a non-Russian husband, and wanted so much to have them for himself. Would it have mattered if those women had ripped him off, had hurt him, if he'd gotten to fulfill that Mata Hari dream? In the end, this girl is always a fiction. It feels like Miller is writing a fantasy for himself, a Booker nominated Penthouse Forum letter. “I can’t believe it happened to me. I was working in Russia…” While it is well written, at times clever, Snowdrops winds up existing in sexual cliché territory, and for me that's a bit tired and not the least challenging.
ETA: In the comments, I just proposed the idea that the letter Nick writes to his fiancée is in itself a fiction. That he's the dullest dude ever, and so he makes up this elaborate story to tell his girlfriend, so she'll find him more interesting. And if that's the case, if the book is that self-aware? Then it's fucking brilliant. And I'm willing, totally willing, to believe that's the case, if there's any evidence for it. I'd prefer fiction be good, after all