Having spent my fair share of time on the train in April, I’ve had ample opportunity to fit plenty of reading in. It’s been great. Having (inadvertently) dedicated a lot of my time to short stories and some “experimental” fiction, it was nice to pick up a novel with a chronological plot line, a series of recognisable characters and a decent story running through.
The novel in question? A Gentleman In Moscow, a work by Amor Towles – another new author to add to my repertoire.
Why did I read it? Upon opening this at Christmas as a gift from my dad, I was informed that it “looked interesting”. Enough said, really.
The judgement call proved to be right, in my opinion anyway. To briefly summarise, A Gentleman In Moscow follows the life of Count Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who gets confined to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in 1922 at the heart of the communist rise to power. Bear with me.
Set over 30 years, the book cleverly marks this extreme period of upheaval in Russia, without ever setting foot outside the doors of the Metropol Hotel or, indeed, out of the consciousness of Count Rostov himself.
Ever a fan of a parallel narrative, A Gentleman in Moscow didn’t disappoint me. Running alongside the historical story of Russia’s transformation to the USSR is Rostov’s ever-changing world and the amazing amount of change one’s life can undergo all whilst staying in one place.
Some suspension of disbelief is required, but, amongst the changes in his life, Rostov a) gets put under house arrest in an attic, 2) meets a nine-year old girl who becomes his new best friend, 3) acquires a skeleton key for the entire hotel from said nine-year old, 4) meets Ukrainian film star Anna Urbanova and falls in love and 5) later ends up with a daughter after his grown up nine-year old best friend goes missing. And that’s just a snippet of all of the action.
The point is, that during the years between 1922 and 1960 when the book ends, the turbulence of the country through each and every individual’s life out of balance, reversing roles, transforming relationships and uncovering skeletons in every closet. For someone who has only ever thought about this period from an overarching national perspective (thank you GCSE history), the effect on the day-to-day life of ordinary Russian people somewhat passed me by.
This is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in people, society and one of the biggest historical periods that continues to impact life as we know it. Or, you know, for anyone who just fancies a good story.