Red Plenty is a beautiful departure from the standard depictions of the Soviet Union in English-language fiction. Francis Spufford’s novel takes the reader not just to Russia in the years of Khrushchevian optimism, but into the heads of a succession of superbly drawn characters who experience those days from their different perspectives.
Front and centre are bright young believers in the Communist idea that rational scientific planning, deployed with intelligence and determined good will, represented a transformative step forward for humankind. We are not talking dull one-dimensional ideologues loaded down with notions of superpower competition, but bright individuals, excited to be alive at that time in a place where the dream of plenty seemed within reach.
once upon a time the story of red plenty had been serious: an attempt to beat capitalism on its own terms, and to make Soviet citizens the richest people in the world. For a short while it even looked —and not just to Nikita Khrushchev— as if the story might be coming true … This book is about that moment.Red Plenty, p. 5
Part one of this review is here.
If you want your Russia-in-fiction tropes, Moscow at Midnight provides a collector’s cornucopia, and does so with style and originality.
As part one of this review observes, McGrane provides so many Moscow references that it might sound as if she reduces them to a passing mention, or, in one of her many memorable phrases, ‘a strange kind of Baedeker’.
Whilst there are occasional hints of that, Moscow at Midnight elevates its location with lyrical and evocative descriptions.
Part two of this review is here.
May be the reviewer who wrote “a worthy successor to John Le Carré” thought that they were doing Sally McGrane a favour? They would be wrong. And not just for the normal ‘why is everyone who writes a half decent spy thriller always compared to Le Carré?’ reasons.
Moscow at Midnight might be about a jaded CIA officer in Russia on the trail of a missing woman, but it ain’t no spy thriller. It is a smorgasbord of literary genres — sure, there is espionage; and there is a touch of Bulgakovian magic realism; and there is satire; and there is crime; and there is comedy.
But most of all, there is Russia.