It seemed intriguing. A novel, which seemed like a mystery, set in Russia and considered worthy enough to be a Man Booker Prize finalist. I could not have been more wrong. Aside from the epigraph (an unadorned juxtaposition of the two meanings of the novel’s title) and an occasional line that suggested that Miller may, in fact, have some writing skill, this is a bad, bad book.
There is a plot, flimsy though it may be. Our narrator, Kolya, is soon to be married and has promised to reveal to his intended the story of his time in Moscow. And I get that he is telling the story of his younger, callow, cynical self (to imply that he’s changed?), but the whole thing rings incredibly false. It makes Miller, once the Moscow correspondent for The Economist, seem like a smug and flippant jerk. He has seen the true Russia, this novel screams, and this is the true scoop. He (Kolya? Miller?), of course, has sex with a tarted up younger Russian woman and makes snide remarks about every aspect of Russian society, including a downstairs neighbor (yet another stock character) who simply wants some help.
I don’t know what Miller is like as a journalist, but this is his first novel, and it shows. I hope it’s also his last.