Friday, 2 September 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (4/5)

The back says: War and Peace is a vast epic centred on Napoleon's war with Russia. While it expresses Tolstoy's view that history is an inexorable process which man cannot influence, he peoples his great novel with a cast of over five hundred characters.

Three of these, the artless and delightful Natasha Rostov, the world-weary Prince Andrew Bolkonsky and the idealistic Pierre Bezukhov illustrate Tolstoy's philosophy in this novel of unquestioned mastery.

This translation is the one which received Tolstoy's approval.

I say: I was wondering where to even begin to explain my feelings about this (in case you haven’t been reading my spoilery book by book reports), and I think this pretty much sums it up:

Before reading it I felt like it was something I should read. While I was reading it I thought I’m finally reading it and I’m loving it and hating it in intervals. After reading it I kind of wish I hadn’t read it because now all the magic is gone, and it wasn’t really all that I thought it would be.

The story itself was really good and interesting and I loved it up until about chapter 13, and not because it didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but because it felt like Tolstoy didn’t really care anymore. He wasn’t describing their lives with the same fervour as before, choosing instead to focus more on the war. I’m not complaining because the book is called War and Peace, I’m just saying that it was sad to take me into their lives and have me caring for them and then somehow start slipping in the details.

Maybe he got bored of them, what do I know – except that the way he ended their story was not to my liking at all.

The “war part” of the book, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. At times, I should confess; sometimes it got a tad boring – mostly when Tolstoy was trying to disprove and discredit all other historians. Which he did a lot.

A very lot.

Now, I have to point out that I don’t know if Tolstoy was a historian himself, or much about War and Peace, since I make a point not to read up too much on books before I read them as I want to form my own opinion. So perhaps everything that Tolstoy claimed and argued is correct – I’m not touching that. What I will touch upon is that I was thoroughly intrigued by the war and found myself reading up on the details on Wikipedia (I know) as I was reading, just to get a proper feel about it all (especially the battle of Borodino). I studied war (my thesis was on terrorism and insurgency) so it got extremely interesting when Tolstoy started arguing that it was guerrilla warfare.

But enough about that.

I do love the way Tolstoy writes, although I stand by the opinion that this could have done with a huge edit because there was so much in there that I could have done without. There were a lot of guffaws, because he is a witty writer; and a lot of anxiety because he just draws you so deep into the story you forget everything else. However, the main thing I’m going to remember is probably the names.

So many names.

A seemingly endless array of names.

And just as I’ve learned to pronounce them we never hear of them again.

In conclusion then (because I could go on for days), I wish I had never heard of this before reading it; that I didn’t have such huge expectations, because maybe then I wouldn’t have been left with this slight feeling of disappointment. Not that it was bad, but because I naively thought it was going to change my life, which it didn’t.

Not in the slightest.

The “story” would probably get a 3.5/5 and the “war analysis” a 4.5/5 so we’re compromising this into a 4/5.

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