Tuesday, 19 April 2011
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Well after seven months I finally got through this rather weighty book and at once I gave myself a little cheer. I read this on the kindle so I didn't have the whole lugging around the book around or trying to hold it up while reading in bed that the real book would have involved (of which I was very glad) Plus the kindle made it far less intimidating I think.
Before you think that this is some kind of advert for the kindle I would like to point out that mine is not working at the moment and yes I know, that would never happen to a real book, feel smug if you wish. Anyway.......
A lot of people seem to have their own guide to reading this epic and these are my thoughts, but don't worry I have not listed any spoilers.
1.Don't be put off by the sheer size of it. The novel is divided into shorter books which contain even shorter chapters. There are no huge 50 page chapters so everything's broken down into kinda bite size chunks.
I'm going to quote Thomas from his review on My Porch: One shouldn't approach War and Peace as a book. It is more like your favourite TV drama or mini-series, or, dare I say, soap opera.
That is exactly how I approached and read it (its like a big soap opera in large places anyway). Don't think of the end just go along for the ride and just enjoy all the various antics, marriages, soul searching, battles etc. that are packed in there. Read other stuff and don't worry about any time limits, the characters aren't going anywhere.
2.Don't think ahhhhh it must be really difficult and dense to read. Really its not, in fact one of the first things that stuck me was how assessable it was. My sister saw I was reading it and said 'oh isn't that a hard read' she soon changed her mind when she read a sample. In fact I had more trouble reading the Crying of Lot 49 which was less than 200 pages than I did reading this.
3.Get a family tree and a list of characters before you start. This bit is difficult, the sheer roomful (literally) of characters that the reader is completely bombarded with at the beginning makes for a confusing read. After a couple of hundred pages they were all set in my mind and I no longer needed my lists but to start with I would have been completely lost without it. The family trees are useful as characters get introduced who as it turns out is related to an character that was introduced earlier. Who was who's sibling confused the hell out of me at times.
The numbers of characters are needed in order to give the reader a view over the impacts of the War. Through the characters you get to see the War from the soldiers view right up to the people making the decisions and what its like to be hungry or captured during the War. You also see management of estates, marriage, childbirth, death, social climbing, duels, inheritance/dowry's, happy and unhappy marriages etc and how these aspects of day to day life are affected by the events going on around them. Theres a lot in there and lots of characters are needed to show them although it is only from the upper classes that you gain any insight.
4.It helps to know your history. A quick brush up on Napoleons campaign in Russia could be helpful.
5.I read the translation on the kindle and although an older translation, it suited me down to the ground. So I would recommend going into your library and book-store and sampling a few rather than just automatically going to the latest translation.
It was certainly worth reading and I'm very glad I did but I wouldn't say this was a perfect novel. I much preferred the peace bits to the war bits (mostly) and Tolstoy's mini essays which interrupted the narrative throughout began to get on my nerves towards the end when they became more and more frequent. I would say I enjoyed the middle section of the novel more than the beginning or the end and it was certainly at this point that I truly began to get into my stride. Some of the characters were far more developed and more intriguing than others but most will certainly stick in my mind (although perhaps this is because I was with them for seven months LOL)
It was a great story, I can't quite think of an epic like it and its worth having a crack at.
Posted by Jess