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


  1. Congratulations on completing this. I really struggled with The Crying of Lot 49 and so your comment really resonated with me. I should stop fearing books like this and give it a try. I especially like knowing that it is a great story.

  2. Congrats on climbing one of the literary Everests! I've never read War and Peace, but I loved your tips for getting through a bigger book - as I was reading, I found myself nodding along. I used many of the same tricks when I was reading my way through Anna Karenina for the first time. Thanks for the great review!

  3. Well done! I have War and Peace on my TBR and am planning to read it sometime this year. Hopefully sooner rather than later. I really loved Anna Karenina so I'm hoping I'll enjoy this. I'll keep in mind that I need a family tree handy as I get really confused with all the Russian names!

  4. Books this size always freak me out (Anna Karenina, ahem). You've made me think that it won't be as difficult as I think though.

  5. Well done! I've always wanted to read this book, but I've been intimidated. Glad to hear it's easy to understand.

  6. I read this about thirty years ago one winter when I was travelling to work by bus and needed something to read while waiting at the bus stop. (I can't read while actually travelling.) Unfortunately that meant then that I did have to lug it around with me, but at least the Penguin version came in two volumes. I enjoyed it then and would like to find time to go back to it now. However, you are so right about the translation issue. I should have done what you recommend before I read 'Madame Bovary'. I just grabbed the first copy I came to and it was a disaster. It doesn't matter how many times I'm told it's a masterpiece, my opinion has been blighted forever.

  7. Congrats on finishing it! Now you can check it off your lists of "must reads" which will be very satisfying.

    I haven't read it myself. I am not intimidated by it but I just don't think I'd like it.

    What happened to your Kindle?

  8. Good for you, I still haven't tackled that one.

  9. Well done for finishing. It sounds a bit like Anna Karenina, I thought that was going to be a tough read but it was exactly as you described War & Peace, more like a soap opera.

    I am going to read this one day, just not one day soon :P

  10. Jackie - The srying of Lot 49 is what I judge all other hard books by!

    wereadtoknow - yeah I think if I didnt have other books to read alongside it I might have gone mad ;)

    sakura - yeah the Russian names thing threw me until I got my head around it. Good luck when you do start.

    reviewsbylola - I think because I didnt concentrate soley on the book and read plenty of other things and I didnt have a time limit meant that I wasnt freaked out by the size.

    Anna - I thought it was going to be wordy and differcult so I was surprised by this.

    Annie - haha W&P is so not a commuting book, I wonder what you fellow passengers thought ;) I think also with translations it makes sense to assume that the lastest one must be the best but it really depends on the individual reader I think.

    Ti - ah the battery keeps going dead after like two days and then I have to reboot it to get it going again. To be fair kindle customer service has been EXCELLENT and I have a guy in Ireland ringing me every two days to sort it out.

    Man of la Book - well its one of those that people sometimes get around to eventually isn't it?

    Tiny Library - have to say the same about Anna Karenina LOL

  11. I admire your ambition and self discipline. I have a tough time with monster tomes; my attention meanders...

  12. Congratulations on finishing. I know how that feels. Although it is amazing how readable it is. I think I am going to hit the County of Monte Cristo this year. Maybe at the house in Maine.

  13. Good for you! I have always wondered if I would enjoy this book, as I loved Anna Karenina and found it very easy to read. I have a nook now and may have to tackle it that way. Nice review, and hope your kindle is back up and working soon. :(

  14. You have been reading some interesting books recently Jessica. My problem is however I read ebook or the real thing I still cannot bring myself to read more than one title at once! It is so long ago now that I cannot recall how long it took me.

  15. Thanks for your thoughts, i needed a bit of encouragement as I joined a readalong back in september last year, have been left far behind and am now at about page 600. i have found bits of it plodding and dull but keep telling myself I have put this much effort in I might as well carry on. Anyway, I will persevere.
    thanks for sharing

  16. I really love your thoughts and tips on this one. I read it in Jan/Feb and thought many of the same things... get a family tree, don't be intimidated, etc. I also liked the peace bits more. I wish I'd read it on my kindle because I did lug that thing around for 2 months.

  17. Well done Jessica. I can't imagine myself there will come a day when I read this book!

    Hope your kindle is up and running and you may feel smug about reading this tome, for it seems to be in every must-read list in the world!

  18. Thanks for the good info. My copy, which I have not read, is in 2 paperback volumes, which means I won't have to deal with a huge unwieldy volume, either.

  19. To echo everyone else...congrats! This is sitting on my bookshelf staring at me...as is the likes of Ulysess by James J. This review may have possibly persuaded me to move the tome to a slightly more accessible bookshelf...

    The are certain books that seem an absolute must to read in a lifetime and this is one...here goes.. **Deep breath**

  20. I read this last year and finished it in a few months time only because I was reading it with another book blogger. Congratulatuions for sticking with it for 7 months.
    I was surprised at how accessible it was,too. Very readable and pretty much a soap opera. Actually I agree with everything you said :) I gave it a 4/5 too.