Glittering ballrooms, champagne dinners, rich cuisine and decadent living; this is the world of Amor Towles’, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’. Readers may initially feel sceptical about the plot – how exciting can a story about a man condemned to house arrest in the tiny attic of a hotel be? However, despite its seemingly dull subject matter, this book is anything but. Rather, it is engaging, colourful, and inviting, infused with a slightly magical quality that reminds us to savour all of life’s pleasures and to never stop actively living. Each character is more charming and vibrant than the next, especially the titular Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov and his daughter-of-sorts and closest companion, Sofia. This makeshift family is joined by an actress, a chef, a maître d’, and a seamstress, all of whose lives intertwine to tell a love story of a different kind. While there is an element of romance, the novel focuses primarily on the familial sort of love that can exist between people who may not be related by blood, but who are able to develop a deeply intimate knowledge of one another and become bonded over one overarching commonality. In this way, the story speaks to both the possibility of genuine human connection and the power of friendship, especially in times of political turmoil, being set in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
Despite the upheaval happening in the world outside, inside of the Metropol Hotel where the story takes place, joy and warmth persist. A sense of child-like wonder pervades the novel as the reader is drawn into the grandeur and intrigue of the opulent hotel. Through attention to detail and meticulous description, this book makes you feel as if you are present for every action, sharing in the characters’ experiences. You can smell the ossobucco, taste the rack of lamb, hear the notes of the piano. Not only are you immersed in these actions, but each one also becomes a euphoric experience. Towles transforms lacklustre events, such as the cooking of bouillabaisse, into an adventure wrought with tension and mystery, which finally results in a jubilant triumph. The vivid and imaginative writing not only captivates readers and keeps them entertained, but also relays to them the idea that, to some extent, everyone has the power to create their own joy.
Overall, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is well-written and compelling, with an amusing troupe of characters that will warm your heart and remind you that, even in dark times, it is possible to make your own magic.