Ben Mabbott (themabbi) wrote,
Ben Mabbott

I started reading War and Peace in February, and 10 months and 1200+ pages later I've finished. It's a very strange book. It's this huge, sweeping, epic story, in which the larger events are almost trivialized next to the minutia of the character's lives. At the same time, there's no main character, and no central thrust to the character's stories, so it's not some "personal story set against an epic backdrop" kind of thing like Gone With the Wind. It's "people live their lives and some things happen during the Napoleonic Wars."

Now, 120 pages a month is a pretty glacial pace for me. I usually read 3-4 times that. Sometimes as much as 10 times that. Aside from the density of the material I was tackling, my other slight defense is that I took a few breaks to read other books (Neuromancer, The Sparrow, Children of God, and The Mirrored Heavens), usually due to going on a trip and not wanting to lug a 1200 page hardcover book with me. So, in those 10 months, I actually read 2700 pages, or 270 per month. So, a little better.

The tone of the book is also strange at times. Tolstoy's voice is certainly unique. He goes on and on about the human spirit and deep feeling, and then at the drop of a hat switches gears and starts talking about military and historical details using analogies based on science or math. Toward the end he spends a couple pages describing soldiers in camp singing songs around a fire, ending with "The stars, as if knowing that no one could see them now, frolicked in the black sky. Now flaring up, now going out, now quivering, they busily whispered among themselves about something joyful but mysterious." This is immediately followed by "The French troops uniformly melted away in a mathematically regular progression." At times it's as if someone randomly inserted pages from the Army Field Manual into a romance novel.

In the end though I'm glad I read it. I doubt I'll encounter anything quite like it again. And hey, it's reputation as *the* huge, daunting, classic novel is well earned, and though there are a lot of copies on bookshelves out there, I doubt many people have actually read it. But I have. And you haven't. So now I can be a big literary snob!

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