Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles


A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles
narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith
Penguin Audio, 2016
17 hours and 52 minutes


Publisher's summary:
A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count 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 a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

A bit of background:

I'd been eagerly anticipating Amor Towles second novel since the moment I finished Rules of Civility back in 2012. (my review) When I learned he quit his day job to write full time, I was overjoyed. The day A Gentleman in Moscow was released, I was among the first patrons at the bookstore. But then the book sat on my shelf... for months. I brought it to Sanibel, where it sat on my nightstand all winter. After I lugged it north again in the spring, the reading slump hit. Weeks passed, then a month. I couldn't finish a novel. Eventually I did finish a long classic (Trollope, of course) but was still leery of contemporary fiction. Last month I decided to try a Gentleman in Moscow...

My thoughts:

As with Rules of Civility, Towles' prose is gorgeous. Within pages I was immersed in another time and place. It was glorious.

Count Alexander Rostov is a captivating character, one who will stay with me for a very long time. I loved the count - his intelligence, refined nature, the manner in which he came to accept his circumstances, and his interactions with other characters, especially Sophia.

The Metropol hotel is practically a character, too. Towles brought it to life as I formed detailed images of various salons, dining rooms, stairways, and even the roof and basement.

But...

The plot builds slowly. Very slowly. I found myself wishing things would just. move. along. As I'm not generally a reader who requires much in the way plot, this might be the lingering effects of the worst reading slump ever. Eventually, I did reach a point where I couldn't put the novel down. The ending is among the best I have ever read.

Every single sentence of a Gentleman in Moscow is a work of art. I marked quotes too numerous to share. It is, undoubtedly, the most beautifully written novel I've read this year.

A note on the audio production:

As I struggled with the print edition, I turned to the audio to pull me through. Nicholas Guy Smith, a new-to-me narrator, was absolutely mesmerizing. His voice was perfect for the count - so elegant and refined. If you are an audiobook fan, be sure to consider this option.

My rating:
The writing and audio production certainly deserve 5 stars, but A Gentleman in Moscow was a 4 star read for me.

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38 comments:

  1. I loved this novel, although I will agree it was slow at times. The writing is so beautiful that I went out and bought Rules of Civility, also. I seriously wish I was able to express thoughts half as well as this author does.

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    1. Karen - You are in for a treat with Rules of Civility! If you want more of those characters, Towles wrote also a novella (extended short story?) called Eve in Hollywood which is available on amazon.

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  2. I loved this one more than you did, but I can see your points about the pacing. I'm going to reread it in January, as there's a local Russian art museum that has started a book club, and this is the January book. Should be a fun discussion, led by a museum docent.

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    1. Amy - I'm sure this one will stand up to a reread, but I can't help but wonder if the reading slump fueled my impatience...

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  3. Felt the same - a slog for me. I could objectively appreciate the writing though it was too flowery for my taste. I prefer something more spare.

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    1. Sarah - My daughter felt the same way...

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  4. Terrific review.

    The book sounds very good. I like skilled writing and based on your commentary this book sounds like it has it. I am also fine with books that are not plot driven.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. I'm generally fine when there's not much plot, but I think the reading slump contributed to my impatience this time.

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  5. Glad you enjoyed this book so much

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    1. Vicki - Towles is such a talented writer... I will read anything he writes!

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  6. Sounds like a great novel. Glad you continued to the end since the end was so good.

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    1. Pat - I considered putting it aside, but the end was definitely worth it!

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  7. Oops, I started my comment and it disappeared!

    Trying again. I must add these books to my list. I love gorgeous writing and stories that take me to other places and times.

    Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

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    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - Did you read Rules of Civility? It definitely belongs on your list if you haven't!

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  8. I have both books on my shelf and will probably start with this one and read Rules of Civility later next year. I think I'll download the audio (of A Gentleman in Moscow) and try listening and reading. Maybe that will keep me from getting impatient! :) I'm eager for a beautifully written book. It's been ages since I've read anything with lyrical prose. Very nice review, JoAnn!

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    1. Les - This is certainly a beautifully written book, but be prepared for the slow pacing. That may not have been a problem before reading slump, but I really had to fight against my impatience this time. Glad the ending was so good!

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    2. I started it last night and so far, so good!

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    3. Les - Hope you're still enjoying it!

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  9. I loved this novel; I would have to agree that it moves along slowly, but the writing was so great that I didn't mind one bit. Great review, JoAnn!

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    1. Tara - I probably wouldn't have minded the slow pace either if I hadn't been coming out of the reading slump... that was the worst one ever :(

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  10. I've heard this is slow, but it sounds wonderful to me. I'd never thought of it on audio, but that does seem like a great choice!

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    1. Buried in Print - If you like audiobooks, at least listen to a sample of this one and see what you think. It really helped me when I needed a break from reading in print.

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  11. You really spent a very long time with this book. It seems as though it was well spent, though, and worthwhile at the end!

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    1. Patty - That's what my daughter said... she though it took me a month to read the book, but it actually wasn't quite that long. Thank God the ending was so good!

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  12. I have had this novel on my shelf forever too and am also struggling to finish books. Good idea to add the audio. I am enjoying audio more and more.

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    1. Pam - If you're struggling to finish books, it might be a good idea to save this one for later. It's really a wonderful book and best enjoyed when you're in the mood for something a little slower.

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  13. I don't think I'd be able to listen to this one just because I've noticed that the only audio books I can do are usually thrillers. So a slow book would probably not work for me. Glad it had a great character and will have to add this one to my list!

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    1. Iliana - In that case, this might not be the best audio choice for you! If you decide to read it, choose a time when you're in the mood for a slow, beautiful book.

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  14. Gorgeous prose but slow. Hmmm. I know so many have loved this one but the story doesn't appeal to me all that much.

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    1. Ti - This might be a slog if the story doesn't appeal. If you decide to sample, you'll know within 50 pages.

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  15. I've been wanting to read this but have heard multiple reviews saying it was on the slow side. That's great to know that the audio is a good option. I have better luck with slow books on audio and I'm fascinated by the idea of the story.

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    1. Katherine - As good as A Gentleman in Moscow is, I'm not sure I would have made it through with our a little help from the audio!

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  16. I have a signed copy from the author, who was BEA a couple years ago, on my shelves. But I may try the audio. I worry it does sound a bit slow to me.

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    1. Susan - If you can get the audio, a read/listen combination might be the perfect way to experience this book.

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  17. I loved this book so much I didn't even care that it was slow building!

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    1. Lisa - If I hadn't been coming out of a reading slump, I doubt I would have cared either... such a beautiful story!

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  18. I had the feeling of snail-paced wandering at certain points in the book, despite listening to the voice of the narrator who tries to make every episode as fresh and interesting as a new day. Having said that, I think certain events in the book, when extracted out, can make a wonderful movie, considering the setting and the characters, and that enthralling last act. The Metropol makes me think of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. :)

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    1. Arti - I hadn't thought about it, but this book does have the potential to make a wonderful movie. The setting alone would make me want to see it!

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