This is the first of my chosen 5 from the Baileys long list I have read.
Russian oligarch, Gorsky is led to London by his love for the beautiful Natalia, who is now married to an Englishman. Seeking to fill his new Thames-side mansion with books and settle in for the long haul, he makes an appointment with a down-on-his-luck bookseller who receives the commission of a lifetime and so the story begins.
The down on his luck book seller is Nicholas Kimović, a Serbian living and working in London. Nicholas is a wonderful narrator. He is intelligent and his delivery is precise and careful. He is passionate but not sentimental as he finds himself living vicariously through Gorsky who has entrusted him with a limitless budget to create a library that will win him Natalia. He approaches this task with dedication and enthusiasm. In doing so Nicholas becomes genuinely fond of Gorsky as he builds a priceless collection of books for a woman he has more than a passing admiration for himself. This task takes him to glamorous parties, and opens up a world of privilege and luxury that for a short time he inhabits with surprising ease.
This book and the other characters could have been unbearable; an Oligarch, untold wealth and an excess of riches beyond imagination. But, mostly it wasn’t. There were one two characters who were distasteful, in particular Natalia’s English. However, the love story and the genuine depth of feeling and human emotions displayed in the various relationships, but perhaps particularly in Gorsky’s feeling for Natalia prevented this slipping into vulgar territory.
I realised early on as I’m sure most readers would, this book is very influenced by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. As far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing.
“First there was a year of glamorous parties: an unexpected, undeserved year, unlike anything I had ever experienced. Then it all suddenly stopped and I had to return to what I was before, to a different language and a different place. Gorsky changed my life”
The other thing which became clear the more I read, was that this book is really about London, more than any of the characters, who in many way dance to the tune of London.
“In London, April is not the cruellest month but the gentlest. No other season compares to those occasional crisp sunny days which arrive after months of slushy semifreddo……….Suddenly the light breaks through and teases out every bit of red around. You realise that the places defined by its scarlets and its blacks: red for the post boxes, and phone booth, the buses, the coats of Chelsea Pensioners and the guards on duty in front of the royal palaces”
This too made me adore this book. I love The Great Gatsby and I love London. Consequently, I loved this book!
This book has been described as a page turner, and I completely agree. This book also feels very current. ‘Kensington and Chelski ‘Mansions owned by Russian oligarchs who barely live in them is all too familiar. This clever and imaginative book gives a glimpse into the strange and ridiculous world of the super rich and is a lesson in how money really cannot guarantee happiness.
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