Friday, March 27, 2015

In which I am defeated by War and Peace

Will you think less of me because I struggled with War and Peace?  I started reading it well before Christmas and I'm still not quite finished with this 1200+ page novel.  (Fewer than ninety pages to go!)


I read somewhere that War and Peace is considered the best novel of all time.  (The same list put Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain as the second best.)  It's a book one must read, and I added it to my list for the fifty classics project.  (I read The Magic Mountain too, a long time ago and I can't really say that I enjoyed it all that much, although I did learn an awful lot about early treatments for tuberculosis.)

Anyway, what can I say about War and Peace that won't sound completely idiotic and ignorant?  I thought it was going to be a little like Jane Austen, only with fur hats.  Not that I'm disappointed!  It's just that it's a very complex novel.  As the title implies, the action shifts between the battlefield and the drawing room.  I'm an absolute blockhead where military tactics are concerned and I struggled whenever the focus was on the war.  Aside from the war, the novel centers on three families: the Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, and the illegitimate count, Pierre Bezukhov and their stories are absorbing, particularly that of the love between Natasha Rostov and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.

Vladimir Nabokov said, "Curiously, one cannot read a book, one can only reread it. "  This is especially true of War and Peace.  For a novel as complex as this one, an initial reading is necessary so that when you read it again, you are better able to understand and appreciate it.

Have you read it?  Thoughts?

16 comments:

  1. I read just the peace parts. Does that count? I might not even have read those parts but I was trapped on the couch for a week back in the dark ages before the internet and had nothing else to do. I don't remember much and I tend to get the characters confused with some of the ones in Anna Karenina.

    So many books we're "supposed" to read are unreadable, at least to me. Ulysses, Moby-Dick, that long Marcel Proust one about madeleines.

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    1. Ha, I really want to read Proust, but I'm balking at the time commitment.

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  2. I have never read it. I've never really understood why someone would read a book they didn't like, unless it was for a grade. I was forced to read some classics in high school, and I didn't like any of them, or feel in any way edified by the experience (that's not to say that all classics are bad --just that the ones chosen by my teachers did not speak to me). If I start a book I don't like, I just stop reading it and move on to a better book :-)

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    1. I will read a book I don't like if I feel it's truly enriching my life. I didn't "dislike" W&P, I just struggled through a lot of parts that were hard to understand. The human story was really good.

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  3. I haven't attempted it, but one of these days I will. I agree with Nabokov - I frequently reread books, especially ones that challenge me.
    It took me a full year to read "Infinite Jest". A friend handed it to me and challenged me to finish it. Compared to that, you are cruising with War and Peace.

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    1. I don't think I'm familiar with Infinite Jest. Are you glad you stuck it out?

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  4. A long, long time ago I tried reading it. At some point I gave up - it probably was because I couldn't comprehend the battlefield scenes, but honestly, I don't remember. If one has seen the Masterpiece Theater version, does that count?

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    1. The battlefield scenes were so difficult--especially when they were talking tactics.

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  5. I read it years ago, college age maybe?, and liked it but I think I skimmed over the war parts.

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  6. I really don't feel compelled. You quitting on it makes me feel less compelled.

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  7. I know I've read it because it lived on my bookshelf for many years and teeny-tiny snippets came back as I read your post. Perhaps some day I will reread it.... or perhaps I won't. My husband is attempting to read through "the classics" as well; he has no trouble putting a book down and walking away if it doesn't interest him.

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    1. I hope you have time to reread it someday.

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  8. I've never read it. With the months of struggle, do you really think it's worth the effort?

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    1. Yes, it was worth it. If I thought it wasn't worth it, I would have quit after the first few chapters. I finished the whole thing over the weekend. Near the very end he says, "If we allow that human life can be governed by reason, the possibility of life is annihilated." I love that he takes a stance of faith over reason.

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