Today I’m sharing two vastly different novels — one is deeply character-driven, and the other deeply plot-driven — both eliciting similar ratings for enjoyment. Should be fun!
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Published: September 2016
Genre: historical fiction
Summary: In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Mini Review: I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed this novel. Character-driven narratives are my jam, but for a novel to be almost entirely devoid of plot was astounding. This novel follows a man living in confinement as a Former Person in a Moscow hotel following the Revolution. He was once a member of the aristocracy, and as the decades pass he continues to live with one foot in nostalgia and one foot looking toward the future. I enjoyed his turn of phrase, how he made the most of his circumstances, and the way time (passage of, experience within the moment, and history itself) altered while he was trapped in the hotel. He was an individual who still saw his “comrades,” the believers of the People as one homogeneous group, as individuals. When one girl’s life rests in his hands, he moves from a life of leisure to one of purpose, which was a joy to watch develop. (The experience was a bit like reading a narrative of the Earl of Grantham through the eyes of Carson the Butler in Downton Abbey.) I can’t pinpoint what exactly pushed me through to continue reading, but I’m glad I did!
When You Read This by Mary Adkins
Published: February 2019
Summary: For four years, Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. But Iris has died, taken by terminal illness at only thirty-three. Adrift without his friend and colleague, Smith is surprised to discover that in her last six months, Iris created a blog filled with sharp and often funny musings on the end of a life not quite fulfilled. She also made one final request: for Smith to get her posts published as a book. With the help of his charmingly eager, if overbearingly forthright, new intern Carl, Smith tackles the task of fulfilling Iris’s last wish. Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris’ big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who’s been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.
Mini Review: Perfect for fans of Attachments and Eleanor Oliphant, this novel is a modern-day epistolary told through emails, blog posts, online therapy submissions, text messages, and other snippets from the characters’ virtual lives. There’s so much that can be gleaned from a person’s online presence! Though the formatting kept me from deeply connecting to the characters, I really enjoyed this quick read for all the ways one can see how people go about their days — their “external” communications with other people, as well as their “internal” struggles that still leave a footprint online (for example, all those pizza deliveries!). It’s also a captivating discussion on grief and death in the modern age — by emailing or writing on the loved one’s wall, knowing they’ll never see it or respond to it but somehow it helps us cope — that remarkably stays bittersweet and even funny without becoming too gloomy.
This qualifies as book 1 of 10 in my library books challenge.