Our Book of the Month for July is A Gentleman In Moscow about Count Alexander Rostov’s house arrest in the arresting(!) Metropol Hotel, Moscow.
A Gentleman In Moscow – 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.
Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely. But instead of his usual suite, he must now live in an attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval.
Can a life without luxury be the richest of all?”
A Gentleman In Moscow – our review
This review is written with the expectation you have read A Gentleman In Moscow. If that’s not you yet, bookmark the page and come back.
A love letter
So many times I have read about Stalin’s Russia and been filled with horror at the atrocities her people faced during this period. Upon reading the blurb, about a Count being placed under house arrest I was expecting something similar. I was wrong.
Despite the times, A Gentleman In Moscow often read like a love letter to Russia. To Moscow, to its people, its food, its history, its culture. The descriptions Towles provides about the meals being served out of the Boyarsky are fabulous. The quotations from Russian literature are plentiful. The love the characters felt for their country and their fellow countryman was palpable. All something I had not witnessed in my previous Russian reading, which made it read like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, Towles illustrated the brutality, danger was never far away. But Towles also showed how utterly pointless it all was – the wine cellar with all the labels removed – and how Russians would adapt, withstand and overcome.
It’s also worth mentioning the structure of A Gentleman In Moscow. Sorry for getting a bit technical, it’s only a paragraph or two! The book’s structure is diamond in style. From the moment the Count arrives at the Metropol his world expands outwards. From the attic to which he has never ventured into before, to Nina the little girl he has never spoken to. Towles constantly builds on this, providing more characters, rooms, experiences, until the midway point when the seemingly unconnected events start to merge together. The plot then rapidly decreases to the final sharp pointed ending of the Count’s escape.
In addition the book works on the doubling principal. We meet the Count one day after his arrest, then two days, then five, then ten and so on. This increases until the midway point where the halving principal is then applied. The period between chapters then reduces in time until the day of the Count’s escape.
All this within the books already fabulously written pages. Makes you think again about its beauty doesn’t it?
The star of the show however is undoubtedly Rostov, the unflappable, food and drink loving Count. He provided the humour and carried the book effortlessly through 30 years of the Metropol’s revolving doors. I’m aching to see him in a film and have heard Kenneth Branagh is set to produce and star in an adaptation – can’t wait!
Yet the Count is supported by one of the best supporting cast I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all year. Particularly the Triumpvirate. Nina was a delight, as was Anna (especially with her clothes throwing). The Bishop was a perfect baddie and my only complaint was that Sophia was a little too sweet and nice, a trait I am willing to overlook in an otherwise perfect read.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading the book. I wasn’t sure where it was going to take me. It took me to the wonderful Metropol Hotel, that I now want to visit. It introduced me to Zut that I now want to play, whilst watching Casablanca and reading Anna Karina. But more than anything it gave me the Count who I want as my dinner guest at the Boyarsky, with Emile cooking and Andrey serving. You know when a book is so good you really, really just want to jump into its pages and be a part of it. This is such a book. Despite it being set in Stalin’s Russia. Bravo Towles.
Book of the Month
If you would like to get involved with our book of the month try answering our book club questions here. We will also be reviewing a new book in August so keep an eye out for the Lowdown on it soon.