Wednesday, 29 October 2008
War and Peace
Title: War and Peace
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Number of pages: 1358
Started: 21 September 2008
Finished: 29 October 2008
'Well, Prince, Genoa and Lucca are now nothing more than estates taken over by the Buonaparte family. No, I give you fair warning. If you won't say this means war, if you will allow yourself to condone all the ghastly atrocities perpetrated by that Antichrist - yes, that's what I think he is - I shall disown you. You're no friend of mine - not the "faithful slave" you claim to be... But how are you? How are you keeping? I can see I'm intimidating you. Do sit down and talk to me.'
These words were spoken (in French) one evening in July 1805 by the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honour and confidante of the Empress Maria Fyodorovna, as she welcomed the first person to arrive at her soirée, Prince Vasily Kuragin, a man of high rank and influence.
Considered by many to the greatest novel ever written, Tolstoy's masterpiece is a story of family life set against the backdrop of war. The novel begins in 1805 in the crowded and gossip-filled rooms of a St Petersburg party and follows the fortunes of the aristocratic Bolkonsky and Rostov families as Napoleon's armies sweep through Europe, culminating in the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and Napoleon's defeat. Tolstoy's vast novel takes in both the epic sweep of national events and the private experience of individuals, from the keen young soldier to Napoleon himself, and at the heart of it all the complicated triangle of affection that binds his central characters.
What I thought:
So War and Peace is no more. All 1358 pages are now read and I am beginning to realise that I have some element of freedom back (that is a terribly amusing War and Peace based joke, but clearly if you haven’t read it, it will pass right over your head. Or it could mean that it’s not funny. Or that it’s a bit obscure even if you have read it. Take your pick).
Did I enjoy it? Sort of. I certainly found it very engaging at times and I wouldn’t have read it at the pace (five and a half weeks) I did if I didn’t get something out of it. I particularly liked Volume 3, which was when the narrator stepped into the story more and gave his views on people’s rile in history and how leaders think that they are somehow in control and yet any event in life (however great or small that life is) in that moment it is the culmination of a whole load of unconnected events that have gone before and people are not able to operate outside of that and take the credit for things that are really ultimately beyond their own control. I thought it was a really interesting idea and one that permeated the whole book.
As a story it would be right to describe it as epic and it brought together all the different parts of human experience and I was surprised at how funny some bits of the book were, but equally some were very tragic. I have to say that at times it was difficult to keep track of the story, but I think I just about managed to keep up.
Would I recommend it to others? Hmm… It was a good read and I liked it far more than I expected. But if someone wants to read it, they have to want to read it for themselves. I don’t think it is a book to take on lightly because it could easily turn into a test of endurance. I think reading it at a good pace is the best way to do it or else it would be quite easy to put it down and never pick it back up again. It is a definitely a more rewarding read if you read a reasonable chunk at a time (and it also helps to remember what happens as well). So, give it a go if you want to, but you do need to want to.