Monday, 6 February 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Book Review

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

"Yes, exile was as old as mankind. But the Russians were the first people to master the notion of sending a man into exile at home."

A Gentleman in Moscow will be released on 9th February. It is written by Amor Towles and published by Hutchinson.

It's taken me quite a while to write a review of A Gentleman in Moscow as I'm still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand it was a delight to dive into the beautifully worded story of Count Alexander Rostov and the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, but on the other hand this book really dragged for me, and as beautiful as the language was, I felt there was too much of it at times.

Here's the blurb:

On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov - recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt - is escorted out of the Kremlin,  across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.

But instead of being taken to his usu;l suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by the Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.

While Russia undergoes decades of social upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.

It was the blurb on NetGalley that drew me in (also the cover, it's bloody beautiful), an aristocrat kept under house arrest in a grand hotel in revolutionary Russia? Colour me interested. It's a fun concept and one that worked very well, especially with the lead character of Count Rostov. He is a beautifully drawn character, moving out of the restricting mold of dashing dandy. As the book progresses and his life changes, he learns how to survive in ways he'd never have imagined.

A Gentleman in Moscow is about the Count but also about Moscow, and Russia in general. I'm sorry to say that the era is one I know very little about, apart from woolly outlines from school. It was fascinating to read about; going from the grand opulence to stark watchfulness.

There are definite dark areas in the novel and at times it is a very sad book. It's veiled with humour and detail, but it still has a permeating sadness.

However, the sadness in A Gentleman in Moscow is punctuated by uplifting language and the love of Russian literature that this book is practically doused in. Tolstoy, Pushkin and Dostoyevski are all referenced with passion.
There are also quite a few uplifting quotes in the book itself, which would probably make quite good motivational posters and Pinterest quotes.

"Unlike adults, children want to be happy. So they still have the ability to take the greatest pleasure in the simplest things."

However, I have been quite positive about this book, but there's one main thing that put me off and that is the length. It is very long and I don't think it needs to be. Yes, it takes in decades, so it was never going to be a quick read, but, though the language is beautifully crafted, I felt it was overly stuffed at points. Especially nearing the end, which I felt was dragged out by delving into side stories and flashbacks.

Speaking of flashbacks, there are jumps in time in this novel which are a little confusing, and it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly where the Count is in time

I'm honestly still not sure what my rating should be for A Gentleman in Moscow. I think I''m going to go with 3.5, rounded up to 4 for Goodreads etc, because, though I found it hard work, it is undeniably beautiful and interesting. I was reading to a deadline and I think that took some of the joy out of it. A Gentleman in Moscow is best dipped into occasionally; enjoyed, but not rushed.

My Rating: 3.5/5 (rounded up to 4 for NetGalley and Goodreads)

I received a digital copy of the book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. My thanks to the author and publisher.

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