Intro : This is the second time I’m reviewing a 2011 Man Booker Prize finalist, despite it not being a conscious decision to read them. Here’s my review of Julian Barnes’ winner, The Sense Of An Ending.
Synopsis : Nicholas “Nick/Nikolai/Kolya” Platt is a British bank executive working in Moscow sometime in the early-to-mid 2000s. Nick has been living in Moscow for so long that he’s more comfortable there than in London, away from his parents. He meets two Russian girls, Masha and Katya, sisters both, one day in the Metro. He gets drawn towards Masha, feeling he’s in love. One day, the girls ask him to help their aunt, Tatiana Vladimirovna, find a new house. As his liaisoning with Masha increases, he unknowingly gets pulled in a crime.
Review : The book does a pretty good job of keeping the surprise element intact although, with a sharper eye, one can make an educated guess as there are clues strewn throughout.
The author starts off by providing us with two meanings for the book’s title. In Moscow, Snowdrop means a dead body that is only discovered after the snow has melted in the summer. Till then, one can have no idea about it. The book is like that too. The initial pages are written in a way that talks beautifully about little things in life, draws you in effortlessly and makes you marvel over the quality. I was sort of wondering when (if ever) I’d be able to write something that good!
“A Russian toast is a liquid dream of a different life.”
Or this :
“The snow let you forget the scars and blemishes, like temporary amnesia for a bad conscience.”
Lost in these mundane things, suddenly you’re led in a dark alley with knives drawn out. You know something bad is going to happen, things aren’t going to be rosy, but still you can’t back out.
The writing is in first person, like The Sense Of An Ending, which the author uses to deliberately conceal things from the reader. The narrator, Nick, has long since come back to London and is writing this book like a confessional letter to his fiancé. I must say that I found some of the Russia-bashing very arcane and stereotypical but, to be fair, there’s resurrection on that count with a verbal joust between Nick and his boss, Paolo, in one of the later chapters.
There are gems too. This one for a colleague –
“It was as if he had a contractual obligation to see the worst in everyone and everything, or pretend to. For a degenerate he could sometimes be a real pious a****le.”
This one for Russia :
“The younger ones, most of them, had nothing to believe in even if they had wanted to. No communism, no God. Even the memory of God had been forgotten.”
It also celebrates the Russian way of enjoying life despite all the cold and harshness of weather. There is a lot of Vodka and lots of snow. There is the compulsory Russian-goon-masquerading-as-a-businessman character too, called only The Cossack.
By the time we get to the climax, the disillusionment and pain are all-pervading. In a sense, there’s also relief. The reader is led into the life of this guy and layers are peeled off one-by-one. Having participated in this decadence, ultimately the reader is forced to question himself – Was I also complicit in what transpired?
At times, the pace of the book drops due to the writer giving in to some indulgence but still, for a début novel, this is an excellent effort.
Verdict : Snowdrops is a book that shows how fickle and cruel life can be and how vice consumes us altogether if we forget to pay heed to the warning signs.
Genre : Drama, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Fiction, Foreign
Rating : 4/5
Have you read Snowdrops ? Share your views and thoughts on the book (and the review) in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. – Me and Sona, over at Read Write Live, teamed-up to read and review this book concurrently. Here’s the link to her wonderful review. Do check it out.