Amor Towles’s second novel has charm in buckets and had me smiling from the opening page – it is definitely worth your time.
A Gentleman in Moscow follows the adventures of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who in 1922 is sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s elegant Hotel Metropol by Russia’s revolutionary government. Now the Count is some guy: he knows the right wine for the right meal, and how a gentleman should behave if he is to remain one. More than this, he is one of life’s winners (think Bertie Wooster and Jeeves rolled into one), destined to remain on top despite any change of circumstances.
If you’re to be sentenced to a life of imprisonment anywhere, the Metropol Hotel is as good a choice as you can make. It is almost an entire city in itself – containing as it does a barbershop, a florist, a bar, and two of the best restaurants in the city. Here in the lobby of Metropol, the Count witnesses the passing of the twentieth century – politicians, reporters, film stars, and precocious children bring all of Russia to him as they pass through.
Towles has written a charming, comic novel, setting the tone from the start with a script of the Count’s trial before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs:
This tone is maintained throughout by a narrator who always has one eyebrow arched. It works well for a book set in one place for thirty years – it never feels like a chore as long as the narrator jollies things along, but it can mean that you’re missing out on some emotional depth. Surely there’s more to the Count than good wine, good manners, and good food, right?
What saves the novel from this almost overwhelming sense of ennui is the characters. Those who were on the periphery of the Count’s experience when he was a guest begin to take centre stage in his life when he is a prisoner. A Member of the Jockey Club and Master of the Hunt he may be, but he learns about friendship, loyalty and duty from his closest friends: seamstresses, waiters, doormen, chefs, and bartenders.
I highly recommend A Gentleman in Moscow – it is one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a while. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Have you read this one? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.