I picked this one up for a book club a few months ago. I really do not often read literary fiction, but I wanted to give this one a try. And lo and behold–I loved it! I ended up only finishing half before the book club meeting and got all sorts of spoilers, but to be honest, this book isn’t read for the plot. Knowing what’s going to happen does not ruin it at all (and I usually hate spoilers). This is a book that one reads for the journey, not the destination. As Soviet Russia sometimes feels about as #Far and Away as one can get from a modern-day American, I’m ticking it off my list here.
It centers around the titular gentleman, Count Alexander, who put on trial by the Bolsheviks but allowed to live because of a revolutionary poem he wrote–provided he spends the rest of his days under house arrest in a grand hotel in St Petersburg, the Hotel Metropol. The rest of the book, which spans many years, does not (often) leave this hotel, except for brief flashbacks/recollections of the Count’s early life. Thus it provides an intriguing view of Soviet history seen through the lens of the hotel. (One memorable instance is when the labels are ripped off of the hotel’s excellent wine collection so that the bottles were then only defined by red and white wines, equalizing them.)
The Count’s only companions are the people who work at the hotel and those who come to visit from time to time. The cast of characters remains roughly the same over the course of the book. Some special mentions are the young Nina, the actress Anna, his old friend Mikhail, Andrey and Emile, who work at the hotel, and the nefarious ‘Bishop’.
I don’t know that much about Soviet history, though it seems that some subjects are glossed over rather a lot (because we only understand as much as the Count does, for the most part, and the Count is one of the most head-in-the-clouds characters I’ve recently read about). The plot, such as it is, meanders, caring more about how the Count finds meaning in his life and the relationships with those around him than anything else. But it is a fascinating character study. And some of the best bits are the digressions and reflections–I kept sending my husband screenshots of the ebook as I read!
(Apologies–I originally classified this one as #HistorySchmistory but realized just after posting that I actually had meant for it to be in a different category!)