Short takes

by Louise O'Brien / 28 May, 2011
A snowdrop, AD Miller’s debut novel reveals with heavy foreboding, is Moscow slang for the bodies and secrets that lie buried all winter to be revealed by spring’s thaw: “… the badness that is already there, always there and very close, but which you somehow manage not to see.” Over the course of a single winter, Nick Platt, the British hero of SNOWDROPS (Atlantic, $35), both discovers and buries secrets as he is progressively seduced by a corrupt society. The greatest weakness of the novel is its love story, the lure that first ensnares and then corrupts Nick. Masha is not a particularly credible honey-trap, her meagre charms out of all proportion to Nick’s headlong fall from grace. The best thing about Snowdrops is its atmospheric evocation of time and place. Moscow’s domes and statues, wreathed in ice and snow, are a picturesque backdrop to the crass and thuggish society thriving amid the Russian oil boom and the burgeoning of capitalism.

THE MEETING POINT (Faber and Faber, $39.99)
, a likeable second novel from Lucy Caldwell, gains much of its interest from the stark juxtaposition of difference. Ruth and Euan take their young daughter and set off to the Middle East to be missionaries, moving from a dairy farm in Ireland to a walled compound in Bahrain, from the lovingly detailed “rowan coppice down by the ancient rath burbling their liquid songs and the waters of the lough calm and shining silver” to the arid and endless desert. The Christian mission of the Idealistic and passionately devout Euan is set against his young wife’s increasing doubts – about her faith as well as her husband and marriage. For Ruth, the contrasts of place, language and culture she is suddenly exposed to open up the exciting possibilities of other lives. It’s this clash of cultures that lifts Caldwell’s tale of a desperate housewife – saturated with biblical parables and religious allegory – from the mundane.

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