A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, published in 2016, is a pleasant book, so playful and light that I fully expected to find, once I’d finished reading the novel, that a feel-good movie was planned starring Tom Hanks as Count Alexander Rostov.
I was wrong.
It’ll be a feel-good mini-series, starring Kenneth Branagh as Count Alexander Rostov.
On the way to finding that out, I stumbled across a review that called the book Tolstoyan and asserted that it was a worthy update of the Great Russian Novel.
I think that reviewer is wrong.
True, like Anna Karenina, there is an attempted suicide in A Gentleman in Moscow. The difference is that, in Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Anna is successful, while the Count’s plan is interrupted comically at the last second by an old man obsessed with bees.
True, A Gentleman in Moscow is set in Russia as are all Great Russian Novels. But where is the existential angst in the Towles book? Where is the evil?
The closest thing to evil is a small-minded party member who’s nicknamed the Bishop for his overweening pomposity. But his appearance on the page never elicits dread. Instead, he’s a comic figure who sets in motion comic actions and reactions.
Although the novel is set in the Post-Revolution Soviet Union, during which millions of people died through starvation, exile or murder, there are only passing references to such depressing facts.
The worst thing that happens — the disappearance of the Count’s friend Nina and her husband after being exiled — occurs offstage.
And, truth be told, it’s simply a plot-twist to enable Towles to maneuver the Count into position to have to take responsibility for Nina’s five-year-old daughter Sofia.
General warmth and cuddliness ensues.
Patrick T. Reardon