16
Jul 04

Those Big Russian Novels

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 410 views

Those Big Russian Novels
 
I’ve had both of Tolstoys big novels on my bookshelves for some years. I’ve used them as bookends, doorstops and once threw War & Peace at an ex-girlfriend. The only thing I haven’t done is read them.
 
I grabbed Anna Karenin a month ago to hurry time on a long flight and I kept going. Through all 851 pages of dense type. I left the introduction to the end (rightly) as despite running to just two pages, it summarises the plot, discusses the characters and gives away the ending.
 
I was surprised how readable it was. The prime difficulty lies in learning character names. Every Russian has a selection of three or four names dependent on intimacy of relationships with one-another. The Penguin edition tidies this a little, but I still had to draw a family tree for reference. Why don’t all big, multi-generational novels have family trees printed in the front?
 
I finished Anna (as I’ve come to know it) last night. Trouble is, I don’t know anyone else who has read it, so I end up comparing my reflections with online study guides.  I guess it looks better back home on the bookshelf with its creased spine and coffee-splashed cover, but I could have bought a second hand copy for the same effect.

The one plus: it was hugely enjoyable, but I think one big Russian novel, per lifetime, is enough.

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