The literary community has been waiting for a follow-up to the Towles’ debut bestseller Rules of Civility. Dare I say, his second outing is even better.
Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov finds himself in an awkward time to be aristocracy. The Bolshevik revolution has dismantled the Russian monarchy and finds anything from the old culture dangerous and distasteful. Rostov is placed under house arrest within the famed Hotel Metropol, situated on a bright corner in Theatre Square.
The new regime not only limits his world to the hotel, the dispossess him of his comfortable suite and confine him to a small storage room near the belfry. Laden with only a few books, a couple of pieces of furniture and a couple of suits, the Count becomes a sort of friendly phantom of the hotel.
Within the storied walls of the Metropol, the Count still manages to live an interesting life. The guests and the staff become his family and friends. Anna, the silent film star; Nina, the seven-year old living there for the summer; Emile, the brilliant chef; Andrey the unflappable maitre ‘d; Marina, the seamstress; and Mishka, his literary friend.
But as the Count was about to open the door to his rooms, on the back of his neck he felt a breath of air that was distinctly reminiscent of a summer breeze. Turning to his left, the Count stood motionless. There it was again, coming from the other end of the floor…
Intrigued, the Count walked down the hall only to find that all the doors were tightly shut. At the hallway’s end, there seemed to be something but a confusion of pipes and flues. But in the farthest corner, in the shadow of the largest pipe, he discovered a wall-mounted ladder that led to a hatch in the roof — which someone had left open. Putting on his shoes, the Count quietly climbed up the ladder and out into the night.
The summer breeze that beckoned the Count now wrapped him in its full embrace. .. Before him lay the ancient city of Moscow, which, after waiting patiently for two hundred years, was once again the seat of Russian governance. Despite the hour, the Kremlin shimmered with electric light from every window, as if its newest denizens were still too drunk with power to sleep. ~Pg. 124-5
Yes, I know it’s a long quote. It’s part of the enchantment that is Towles’ writing. One thought flows so effortlessly into the next that you don’t know when to stop — nor do you want to.
Towles approaches the story with delicacy and circumspection befitting a Count. His character finds joy in simplicity and philosophy in the smallest moments. The book traces his 30 years within the hotel. From his gilded cage, he sees the rise of the concept of comrade and the disintegration of the Communist ideal.
And for a movement that is represented by a hammer and concrete industrialist architecture, Towles manages to sculpt a light, heartening story. A Gentleman in Moscow is a perfectly exquisite novel, a delightful pavlova with a constitution that is neither ponderous nor flimsy.
Many thanks to Viking for the review copy.
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Viking (September 6, 2016)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches