I have been reading War and Peace on and off for over a year now. I prefer it that way. War and Peace is not a book that provokes a sense of urgency – uh, 1,444 pages? Yeah, that goes without saying. That’s not to say it isn’t captivating. I can honestly say I never once put this book down (once for a period of five months) out of boredom. Tolstoy is simply the master at creating vivid characters that live with you long after you’ve traveled the road with them.
That said, I am elated and saddened to have whittled down this tome to normal book size; I now have 300 pages left. One main character has died and it looks like the characters we believed would get together will not. I find this both frustrating (Tolstoy, how could you?!) and intriguing. I would have been happy with the ending that I believed Tolstoy was constructing for us over the course of the last 1,100 pages. But it wasn’t to be. As usual, the master has something much more complex in store for us. I sense a series of religious experiences on the approach.
Still I find myself venting to Luke whenever I finish a chapter: “You will not believe what so-and-so just did.” “What is Tolstoy thinking? Of course, ____ and _____ shouldn’t get together! What about poor old _____?” It’s because of these bedtime rants that Luke doesn’t believe me when I announce that Anna Karenina is still my favorite and that it is the superior work. “You never got this strung along when you were reading Anna,” he says, which is not necessarily true; I was just happier with the way I was being strung along.
But I trust our boy, Tolstoy. After all he brought us Anna. I trust that he will resolve these, what seem to me, botched plot constructs. I trust he will work his magic once more. But he better hurry up. When you’ve spent 1,100 pages building up the story and characters (only to have them killed off), 300 pages doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time to resolve them all into happy endings… and that is what I expect, Tolsty: Happy Endings.
I’m curious: Have you ever spent over a year reading one book? Which one was it? Oh, and here’s a terrible question. Was it a positive experience, or did you feel like it was a waste of your time?
(Photo of Vittorio Gassman and Audrey Hepburn in the 1956 version of War and Peace)