As always, A Reader's Respite is about six months behind the pack. This is especially true of our quest to read the 2011 Booker Prize nominees. We managed to snag a copy of A.D. Miller's Snowdrops from the library (there wasn't even a wait list for this one....99% of the occupants of our small town wouldn't even be able tell you what the Booker Prize is, for the love of Pete).
The novel is set in post-Communist Moscow during the days when money was freely flowing in and out and financial whiz-kids were flying in and making small fortunes. Nick Platt is one of those financial whiz-kids and Snowdrops is his story. Told in first-person narrative as Nick looks back trying to explain the debauchery and excess that defined his time in Moscow to his present-day (and anonymous throughout the novel) fiance, the story never loses it's undertone of lost morality and despair.
When Nick meets a beautiful Russian girl, he is immediately drawn into her world...a world that is not at all what it seems. Yet Nick's naivete is, at least in part, quite deliberate, as if his loneliness outweighs any moral dilemmas. The beautiful Russian girl, of course, is not what she seems and in many ways is a symbol of modern-day Russia itself. Beautiful, yes, but corrupted underneath.
Still, the reader is left to grapple with Nick. Although a protagonist, it is difficult to summon any sympathy for his plight. He's not a stupid man. It's left to the reader to decide whether his motivations justify his actions.
Booker Prize worthy? Our first thought was that this novel was far to readable to be on the Booker Shortlist. Our experience with previous nominees has left us with the impression that if A Reader's Respite could easily follow the story then it wasn't worthy of a Booker. So we were pleasantly surprised by the ease with which the pages flew by.
On the other hand, the entire novel left a slight distaste in our mouth. The moral edge on which these characters balance is just creepy enough to make us believe that more people than we'd like to think lack that compass. And perhaps that is entirely what the author intended.