21 August, 2011

War and Peace: A Review

As mentioned in this post, I was reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I finished it yesterday (taking me almost a whole month to get through it, which is a terribly long time for me) and decided to give you a review of what I thought of this famous novel.

Note: This does not contain major spoilers, but if there are any of you who haven't read it (I wasn't the last person in the world to pick this up, right?) and don't want to know anything about the book before you do, considered yourself warned.

(Also note that this is not as short and tight as a regular book review. I didn't think I'd be able to condense my thoughts into just a few lines per category, so I'm going with a more informal post. Hope you don't mind.)

I expected that I would slog through the book. The version I took out of the library is 885 pages long, small text, large paragraphs, and there's relatively little dialogue. I did end up slogging through bits, but it wasn't as much of a "loose, baggy monster" (Henry James) as I'd thought. Yes, Tolstoy does go off on tangents and gives long explanations and goes on to tell the reader why the war was absolutely inevitable and so forth, but it wasn't entirely boring. A lot of it was interesting enough to keep me from skimming, which is a habit I get into when there's tons of text in a novel.

The characters were also interesting. I read several other books while tackling War and Peace, and I couldn't help comparing the contemporary characters to the ones in a classic like this. They're very different. Tolstoy gives you many descriptions of what the characters are like, and it's not just physical appearance, which (it seems to me) is how most people are described today--he describes how attractive the characters are, how their appearance relates to their personality, what is reflected on their faces, the different body language and what it means to the social circles they're in.

The changes (or lack of them) in the characters played an important role. They're quite different at the beginning than they are at the end, seven years later in 1812. It was sad to see how relationships changed, fell apart, and formed over those years, some things seeming hopeful at the beginning but completely unraveling later on. Some ties seemed doomed to fail from the start--and there's really nothing that compares to waiting for things to come crashing down on everyone's heads.

Of course, there's also the war part of the story. Much of the social interaction happened in peaceful areas, far from the fighting. There was lots of military strategy and violence, and this is where Tolstoy seemed to most often get off track from the main story. He went to great lengths to describe the mindset of the generals, the other officers and military, and the inevitability of war. (I disagree with Tolstoy here. If you ask me, everyone makes decisions that lead to war, so you can't really argue that it's just part of a sequence of events no one can stop.) He doesn't really spare you any details, from the characters' mixed emotions about being in battle to the letters between Napoleon Bonaparte and Tsar Alexander.

So, was all this peace and war, war and peace worth the time spent reading? I would say yes. I plan on reading this again, in fact, sometime in the future; I can see why they called this book a classic.


Allow me to digress and point out one grievance I had with this novel, which was the dominant thought in my mind when I finished: the ending is unfair.

Well, you say, did you expect it to be fair?

Kind of. At least for this one character. I felt bad for her--she hadn't done anything special in the story, but while the other characters were having affairs and flirting and falling in and out of love and jumping into doomed marriages and dueling and just generally acting up, she sat through it all, rather calmly and quietly and reasonably.

Of course, she didn't get a happy ending. The OTHER characters got their happy(ish) endings after making all kinds of mistakes, but she didn't.

Fiddlesticks, Tolstoy. It wouldn't have been so hard to leave her content.


(To learn more about War and Peace, visit the Wikipedia article HERE.)


Have you read War and Peace? If not, do you plan to read it?

If so, what did you think of it? And were you frustrated for said character at the end?

-----The Golden Eagle


Barbara Kloss said...

Oh, this is one of my favorite books! Congrats on finishing it and thanks for the review - made me "relive" it a little :)

Pierre was my favorite. And I agree...the way Tolstoy describes his characters was MASTERFUL. You really feel like you know and understand them.

mooderino said...

Thanks, interesting review. Have been meaning to read it and your comments make me think I should. i had similar reservations about how 'baggy' it would be.

Moody Writing

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed, to a degree, to admit that I've never read it. Long projects like this seem to frighten me, which may explain why I'm still midstream in my own novel. Hehe.

Sarah Pearson said...

This is one of those books I have on my 'before I die' list. Your review actually makes me want to make the effort to get it out of the library sometime :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It's on my mean to read it someday shelf. I love reading long novels but I haven't picked it up yet.

Old Kitty said...

Lovely and amazing Golden Eagle!! I can show you my War & Peace copy from erm.... 1989 together with the bookmark where I left off reading and planned to return to. But never did. Ahem. Page 23 or some such. Cough, cough.

I think this review is just wonderful and now that you've teased me about this poor character with the unfair ending, I may just see if my copy will fit in my handbag for me to read on the commute to work! LOL! Take care

cherie said...

Kudos to you for reading the whole book!

It's been eight or so years since the last time I read War and Peace. It is a tediously long book, but worth the effort. It's a classic for a reason. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've struggled through some long Robert Jordan books but never read War and Peace.

KarenG said...

This is one I read a long time ago, skimming through the war parts I must admit. Now I want to read it again!

Donna K. Weaver said...

I haven't read it yet, but it's kind of been on my list for a few decades.

Marlena Cassidy said...

I mean to read War and Peace and then get distracted by everything else. I'm interested in the unfairly ended character, though that doesn't seem highly unlikely that would happen, considering it's Tolstoy.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ooh haven't read War and Peace yet. I can't imagine having the patience or the time. Couldn't someone write a condensed version in verse? (only kidding :)

I ought to read it one day. Congrats to you!

Alleged Author said...

Sometimes I wonder if authors intentionally screw things up for their characters just to keep the story interesting. Great review!

E.D. said...

Nice :-)
I read War and Peace a very long time ago - although neither an easy nor a quick read, it is most definitely worth it. That said, I actually prefer Anna Karenina.

Belle said...

I did read it a few years ago. I was expecting a hard slog, but I enjoyed it very much. I loved the characters; I even liked the war parts, which surprised me.

Anonymous said...

I have not read War and Peace. I'ts a bit too long for me and I like happy endings. For a book that size and the investment needed to read it, I need that happy ending.

Emily Rose said...

This sound like an excellent book!

Jules said...

I remember being assigned to read this but after weighing the thing I some how got by with not. :)

Kudo's for you in doing so.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Adina West said...

I haven't read it (shame shame) so I had to skip to the end lest I read spoilers. But I say good on you for persevering over the course of a month! I find I have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle one of the classics. Takes more mental energy than I have some days.

Theresa Milstein said...

I haven't read War and Peace. It's a pretty long book that has never enticed. Of the classics I should read, this is pretty low on the list.

Funny how writing style changes so much, huh?

Charles Gramlich said...

Little dialogue? It's just gone WAY up in my list to read. I figured it was probably all dialogue in heavy old language.

Mark Noce said...

Great review! I've read it myself and I'd say that your take was pretty similar to mine:)

The Golden Eagle said...

Barbara: Thanks!

I'm not sure who my favorite character was; I didn't really "like" any of them. :P

He does describe them well.

Mooderino: You're welcome!

It's an interesting book. Long, but interesting.

Bryce: I love long books, but it's true that some are a little daunting. I stayed away from this one when I had the chance to read it before.

Sarah: I've heard about "books to read before you die" lists before; I'm thinking about making up my own sometime, just to keep track of all of the really important novels. :)

Susan: I love reading them, too.

Old Kitty: Some books take me a long time to read, too; I've left my own bookmarks in quite a few that I never picked up again. LOL.

Glad you liked the review! :)

Cherie: Thank you!

I agree.

Alex: I've never heard of Robert Jordan before . . . does he write long novels? :P

KarenG: LOL. I read a book once where one of the characters said they skipped the war parts.

Donna: It is worth the read!

Marlena: I really felt bad for her in the end. She should have gotten a better ending. :P

Catherine: Hey, why not? It might be interesting . . .


Alleged: I think so; it's not like some problems characters confront weren't avoidable.

Thank you!

E.D.: Thanks!

I've never read Anna Karenina, but I've seen it referenced many times; it's also on my TBR list of classics. :)

Belle: They were interesting, in their own right. I wasn't a fan of them, but it was a unique perspective on war.

Stephen: I like happy endings, too; at least most of the time. I like seeing some characters (mainly: the antagonists) get what they're due. ;)

Emily: It's an interesting novel, particularly for the time it was written.

Jules: LOL. It's a good book as classics go, but it is rather big. :P


Adina: Thank you!

It's the same for me. Sometimes I just feel like relaxing in a modern novel . . . instead of trying to get through thicker material.

Theresa: It is. There are huge differences between something written now and something written in the 1800s.

Charles: Nope--and the dialogue that is there isn't that bad, really. There are long sentences of speech, must it's relatively modern-sounding.

Mark: Thank you! :)

Madeleine said...

I admire your perseverance. I doubt I could tackle War & Peace esepcially if the typeface is tiny. These days I need a magnifier to see small print even with my new reading specs.

I think I have seen it on TV and I probably would think that the one character you mentioned was the most interesting because they stayed so true to themselves and others and still got a bum rap. It sounds like life. It also sounds like the sort of thing Thomas Hardy would do to such a character. I'm intrigued now. Maybe not enough to read it but maybe to get the audio version at some stage. :O)

GigglesandGuns said...

Eagle,you did so much better than I. In school I gave up and used the Cliff Notes to complete it.
I admit I've no desire to try again.

M Beth Vaughn

Kari Marie said...

Wow, you may have convinced me to give the book a try. I'll admit that I've been scared to start it. Your review made it seem more palatable - thanks!

TBM said...

Ok. I am in the group of I always meant to read this but haven't yet. It is on my list. It really took you a month? Ugh....

The Golden Eagle said...

Madeleine: Small text doesn't bother my eyes, but it is much harder to read than larger type; and it doesn't help the whole "dense" impression of the book. :P

It does sound a bit like life, doesn't it? Unfortunately.

War and Peace would be interesting to listen to!

GigglesandGuns: It is a lot to get through, particularly if you have to remember details about it for school . . . I mostly read this for fun, so that might have helped. :P

Kari: You're welcome! :)

TBM: Almost a month, yes. After a while I just told myself I was going to read at least 50-100 pages in a sitting, no two ways about it. :P It is an interesting book, though!

Aguilar Elliot said...

interesting insight into how tolstoy creates characters. i recently read anna karenina and loved it, been meaning to get to this one.