My friend Katie was on a kick to read the Man Booker shortlist this year, and she recommended this book to me. Really, Katie? I love you, but, really?
This book is, I think, intended to be a noir thriller set in modern(ish)-day Moscow. Nick Platt is an ex-pat British lawyer who rescues two Russian women from a purse snatcher and takes the opportunity to boink Masha, the older sister. Nick is then pulled into some sort of scheme, but I honestly gave up before I got to a point where I could understand what this scheme was.
So...this book is just really not for me in any way. There are moments when the writing is quite nice, particularly when Miller is setting the scene, describing the city itself. It’s a very atmospheric novel, and I definitely liked that. When Miller was describing the action of the story itself, though, I found his writing to often be clumsy and even redundant. For instance, Nick would say, "That was when she told me about her family" and then proceed to give the blow-by-blow dialogue. If you’re going to give us the entire conversation, we don’t need to be told ahead of time what it’s going to be about.
I also disliked the fact that the novel was structured as a letter to a lover (fiancée?) that we don’t ever meet. That took all of the suspense out of it for me. It was almost as if by relating things to her world ("I wore that aftershave that you think smells like horse piss"), it was sapping the tension out of the narrative. Why am I worried about what’s happening with Masha if you’re focusing on things like that? Not that it was something that Miller did to excess – there were really only a few instances – but I didn’t see why it was necessary in the first place.
I might have been able to overlook some of the clumsy writing if I felt like Nick was a character worth my attention, but he's not. It's not so much that he's flat, he's just so juvenile and unlikable. I think that he is meant to represent something about living in a moral vacuum, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what Miller was trying to do. He's a juvenile, emotionally detached man, both exploiting others and being taken for a ride. Why do I care about what happens to him if he doesn't seem to care all that much? I’ve read reviews that describe Nick as an unreliable narrator, which is certainly true. The thing that got me, though, is that I couldn’t tell if this was because Miller was constructing him that way or if it was because of bad writing.
I feel like maybe I’m being too harsh here but something about this books was going over my head and there wasn't enough promise of a pay-off to make me want to keep going.