Chatting with Andrew Miller about Snowdrops and life

Andrew Miller is the author of Snowdrops (his first novel) which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2011. He is also the only author – correction – the only person in Auckland who asked me:

How are things in Christchurch?

Congratulations Andrew on your Booker shortlisting! How has this recognition changed your writing and your life?

Well, it changed my life in a very concrete way. Because of the Booker thing, my book got lots more attention than it otherwise would have. As a result of that I’ve kind of rejigged my life a bit. I only work part time now, the rest of the time I’m trying to write another novel. When I was writing Snowdrops, I wasn’t at all sure that it would even be published, so to have it noted by the Booker people was beyond my expectations. My confidence has grown as a result.

Do you read reviews of your books?

The literary world is a new one for me and I must confess it is not always a very collegial one. I do read them though, I’m not strong enough not to I’m afraid. It’s a bit like looking at road carnage, even when you try not to.

I take it from what you’ve said that you want to continue with writing fiction

I like being a journalist. I think it has lots of overlaps with fiction. But in terms of writing books I am going to concentrate on fiction. I want to have another crack at fiction – it is very challenging but very rewarding. There are a few parts of my book which I did to the best of my abilities and of which I am proud.

Which parts would those be?

Interestingly enough (as I like to think of myself as a nice guy), they are the dark parts of the novel which expose the nastiness, the psychological torture the people in the book are capable of.

A.D. Miller and RobertaSnowdrops is one of those books that has polarised my bookclub into those readers who love it and those who are disappointed in it because they define it by what it is not – it’s not a murder mystery, it’s not a love story, it’s not a travel book, so they have thwarted expectations. What sort of book is it?

The title Snowdrops is supposed to symbolise psychological things rather than criminal acts. I think the narrator thinks it is a love story, but I hope the reader can see that it is not. What is it then? I guess it’s a character study, it is a portrait of moral decline.

How often do people confuse you and Nick, the book’s narrator?

Often. In fact I thought of having a disclaimer in the front for my mother-in -law, so that she didn’t get herself all wound up about the really racy bits!

One of the aspects of the book that I loved was that the narrator was writing this story to his fiancee who remains resolutely off stage. I hated at the end when he says: now I’ve told you all of this “it’s up to you what you do with it”. I felt that was a cop-out on his part and just absolved him from responsibility.

Well, he’s that kind of guy – always avoiding responsibility. There is a note of passive aggression towards the fiancee which crescendos at the end. What are his feelings towards her? What indeed is his motivation for telling her the story in the first place? I think she’d be mad to marry him after all of this.

Has the book been well received in Russia?

The Russian translation hasn’t come out yet. I have had some criticism from some people about how it’s an overly bleak portrait of Moscow, but those people haven’t been Russians.

Did you visit libraries in Russia?

I didn’t use the libraries a lot but I lived quite close to Lenin Library. They tend to be very disciplined places, presided over by formidable women.

Are libraries important in your life now, back in England?

Well, as you probably know, libraries are under enormous pressure in England at the moment. Certainly my children use them all the time. Libraries play different roles in our lives at different times, and that is perhaps their real strength. We never outgrow them.