War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
At the time of writing this review, we have just enjoyed a May Day Bank Holiday. A blissful 3 day weekend where I switched off and relaxed. I did a jigsaw, went to the gym for the first time in forever, made cake and it was heaven. The weather wasn't great (gales and lots of rain) which made it perfect for finishing War and Peace. I am reading this as part of the BBC Big Read Re-read challenge. War and Peace comes in at #20 in the list Top 100 books as voted for by the British Public way back in 2003.
Read all about my BBC Big Read Re-Read Challenge
I read War and Peace with my good friend @fictionaddictionangela We chose a Penguin Classics edition translated by Antony Briggs and had a catch up every 2 weeks or so.
Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon's invasion of Russia, War and Peace follows the lives and fates of a small number of aristocratic families; The Rostovs - their enchanting daughter Natasha and patriotic sons Nikolay and Petya; The Bolkonskys - cynical Prince Andrey and religious Princess - Marya and Pierre Bezukhov, considered one of the greatest characters ever written. Several themes are woven throughout the book as the characters find themselves and each other. And all the time Napoleon is marching ever closer to Moscow.
This is my second time reading War and Peace and I enjoyed it just as much the first time I read it. It is a weighty tome coming in at just over 1350 pages, but it is so absorbing that I didn't notice the pages going by.
The translation is interesting because it is the first time I have really noticed a translation in a book. When I'm reading a classic book such as a Charles Dickens for example, I know it is a novel from the 19th Century because of the language and phrases that are less commonly seen now. But this translation, apart from the time it is set in, read like a more modern novel. The language flowed easily and I had very little back and forth between the text and the footnotes at the back. If I'm honest I did question if this was a good thing. But ultimately, it did not lessen my enjoyment of the book.
The writing is incredibly dense. And by that I mean after reading for an hour, I found I'd only covered about 40 pages. But again, this meant I was able to savour the story even more. It is a book that demands your time but the investment is worth it.
I loved the characters. Natasha was by far my favourite and I enjoyed how she would fill a room with light. She was also a character that really 'grew up' in the book. Pierre is a complex but ultimately very kind character, full of good intentions and integrity. He is certainly the most cerebral character. I hate to use the journey word, used ubiquitously in talent shows, but he is the character who sees most, gets involved most and ultimately questions everything he does or believes.
The themes running through the book are powerfully written and I think this is what makes the book slightly unusual and unique. The structure sees Tolstoy introducing us to a theme with careful and written thoughts surrounding it. And then it it left to the characters to demonstrate this and become the embodiment of the theme. Birth and Death are discussed and beautifully written with the final days of one of the main characters - hanging on and then letting go. It's very moving.
The epilogue was the only disappointment in the novel. We had read a breathtaking, epic novel, following characters who I had invested in. We said our farewells at the end of Part IV and then there was the epilogue. The epilogue reads as a historical essay about the Napoleonic Wars and its causes. For me this felt slightly overblown and I was not surprised to read that Tolstoy did not necessarily want War and Peace to be classified as a fiction book. he would have preferred the genre 'a philosophical novel' about history. Speaking as an ex-Bookseller, thank heavens they kept it as fiction or classics as it is now filed under. I don't think the philosophical fiction section would have been very large.
I do feel that War and Peace deserves its place in the Top 20 of the Big Read List. Sweeping, considered writing about a fascinating group of people. It's well worth the effort. If you do fancy reading this, then check out the post coming on Monday. I'll give you some handy tips for handling this particular reading marathon!