"Since the time of Peter the Great, we have acted as the poor cousin of the West - admiring their ideas as much as we admire their clothes," the Count is informed by Party officer Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov. "But we are about to assume a very different role." This sounds portentous and Towles is perhaps slightly too keen to inform us with cultural references and historical footnotes. However, A Gentleman in Moscow is also frothy and fun with the prose, at times, taking on a Wodehousian gaiety: "At the centre of every table - whether it was hosted by the high or the humble - was a serving of caviar, for it is the genius of this particular delicacy that it may be enjoyed by the ounce or the pound."
For a novel about casting off worldly goods, A Gentleman in Moscow is exquisitely propped and styled, from the silver samovars to the red covers of Baedeker guides — shades of the film director Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. As at the Grand Budapest, the whimsy at the Metropol is sometimes overdone. But the count charms and disarms, and his story sparks much joy and a new anti-Kondo philosophy: chuck much, but keep all the books.
Solzhenitsyn this is not. The frost gathers outside, but the book proceeds with intentional lightness. The tone is generally not far removed from the Fitzgeraldian tributes of Towles’s first novel, “Rules of Civility.”... Towles is a craftsman. What saves the book is the gorgeous sleight of hand that draws it to a satisfying end, and the way he chooses themes that run deeper than mere sociopolitical commentary: parental duty, friendship, romance, the call of home.
...the bulk of Gentleman in Moscow is so much fun that its occasional synonym abuse is hardly noticeable. Towles’s evocation of Russia throughout the first half of the 20th century is precise and focused. Through the count’s eyes, from the lobby of the hotel, we see trends in clothing, food, music, and ideology come and go. We watch as jazz is deemed first dangerously decedent and then irresistible; we watch the count fall madly in love with Humphrey Bogart.... And in the end, the count’s charm — overpowering as it is — comes to seem brave and even heroic. The count loses one way of life and has to invent another, but he refuses to lose his sense of courtesy and grace.