Or, as Tolstoy would say, Book Review: War and Peace, although it can’t really be a review because none of us know anything and everything is inevitable and none of us have any control over events, including writing book reviews, and also, I’m going to kill your favorite character.
I decided eight years or so was long enough to leave this book languishing on my to-read list, and that it was time to give it the attention it deserved. Along with my book club, I planned to finish it in 2017, come what may. And so I did, with blurred eyes and feeble brain and wonder at what compelled me to think I should do this.
First of all, a bit of trivia:
- War and Peace contains 559 characters. That’s right, 559!! If you think it’s impossible to keep that many straight, you’re absolutely correct. It took me a good way through the book to even get the main ones settled in my head. Have I mentioned that a lot of the main characters have several names, and he’s liable to use any mixture of them, or a nickname if he feels like it?
- The first published edition had 1,225 pages. That’s because it takes a lot of pages to include 559 characters.
- Tolstoy didn’t consider it a novel, or a historical account. What genre he meant it to be is unclear to me, but it’s much fuller of philosophy than any novel I’ve previously read, and much fuller of fictional characters than most philosophy books you’ll find.
So what did I personally think of it?
- Well. Frankly I couldn’t see what the hype was about as I slogged through chapter after chapter of war strategies and philosophical ramblings and met character number 468. And when I got to the end, I’m afraid I still was unable to see why this survived as a classic. In fact, it’s even said that Tolstoy would agree with me, and became somewhat disenchanted with his work, writing to a friend that he hoped to never again write something as bloated as War and Peace.
- However, it does get somewhat interesting close to half way through the book. You even become a bit attached to the characters by the end, which isn’t something you’d consider likely at 32% of the way through.
- I found his philosophical ramblings about the inevitability of historic events and man’s inability to change his part in them to be rather depressing. He writes as if depressed himself, as any author might be who is trying to keep straight 559 characters. I think he and King Solomon could have been good friends, what with King Solomon’s cries about all being vanity and vexation of spirit.
- If you can remember who they are, the story line of the main characters is pretty good, as long as you don’t get too attached and become angry when he ruthlessly kills them off.
- If Tolstoy could have kept the novel at 300 pages, there’s a good chance I’d reread it. As it is, I am only immensely glad to have finished it once and for all.
Conclusion: If you’re interested in learning more about the French invasion to Russia in the early 1800s, or if you want a literary accomplishment to brag about to your friends, then this the book for you. If not, I think you’ll find other material a better use of your time.