Not making much progress with reading War and Peace

I’m not making much progress with attempting to read War and Peace for the umpteenth time.

This is for two reasons.


I keep finding other books I’d prefer to read, notably Citizen Clem by John Bew which is absolutely brilliant and deserves all the accolades that have been heaped on it.

I keep going off at tangents to find out more about things that come up in the book. Yesterday I was looking up the WW1 Gallipolli campaign in which Attlee was a serving officer; Edward Bellamy’s 1887 novel “Looking Backwards” which appears to have influenced Attlee’s political thinking; and some of the WW1 poets as Attlee tried his hand at writing poetry in his early years and during his war service. I was reminded of studying the poems of Wilfred Owen for A level English Literature in the late 1960s and took a few minutes to visit some of them again. I learned Anthem for Doomed Youth off-by-heart and have never forgotten the opening lines:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

I’m about halfway through Citizen Clem now and enjoying every page of the biography.

In recent months I’ve developed a taste for dystopian fiction especially Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Terry Tyler’s Project Renova series.  I love Terry Tyler novels and have read them all but was surprised when she moved into dystopian fiction for her new trilogy. What an achievement! She’s made a brilliant genre transition whilst retaining her distinctive author voice. The next book in the Project Renova series is to be published later in the year so, while waiting patiently for publication day of Book Three, I’ve been reading Active: Before joining the resistance you must first become active by Dan Hastings. The novel takes a number of present day issues and develops them further into a plausible, dystopian future set in 2030. The novel has many qualities of a thriller and the juxtaposition of the two genres makes for an interesting read.

I like Lynn Gerrard’s poetry and her third collection  Whisperings and Wonderings: The Grumblings of a Gargoyle is excellent. Many of the poems are dark and occasionally disturbing as the writer explores Death, Relationships and a little Philosophy. The collection is cleverly balanced with some lighter, humorous poems strategically placed to prevent the collection becoming depressing. I re-read the book earlier this week, dipping into the collection a few poems at a time and enjoying them  just as much in the second helping. I really liked both earlier collections of poems from Lynn Gerrard and this book is just as good. I understand a fourth collection is in the pipeline and I’m looking forward to reading it.

So, not much reading time for War and Peace! As the late, great Frank Zappa is reputed to have said: Too many books; not  enough time…..

….which leads me on to my


reason for not reading War and Peace.

I’ve watched the BBC adaptation of War and Peace on DVD. The fantastic James Norton, currently starring in the Sunday night drama, McMafia, plays Andrei Bolkonsky and he and the rest of the cast create excellent portrayals of the richly, complex characters. The settings and costumes are lavish and there are some graphic battle reconstructions. The series cracks along at a great pace packing all those thousands of words into just six episodes. It’s a real TV drama treat. Watching the TV version has helped with my struggle to remember the names of all the characters. Whether or not I’ll ever get into reading the novel in its entirety, I really can’t say. War and Peace remains open on my Kindle but I’ve a queue of other books to read after I’ve finished with Citizen Clem.

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Attempting to read War and Peace for the umpteenth time.

Have you seen The Last Station directed by Michael Hoffmann?

It’s a fantastic film and we watched it twice back to back on DVD.

The film tells the story of the last years of Tolstoy’s life. Tolstoy had a tumultuous relationship with his wife Sofya which lasted for many years and resulted in thirteen children. In his eighties Tolstoy made a dramatic escape from Sofya and his comfortable home life and ended up at the tiny railway station at Astapovo where he became very ill and died.

Seeing the film reminded me of the several attempts I’d made over the years to read Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace.

On every occasion I’ve managed a few chapters and given up. It’s a huge novel: well over 1000 pages in the print version but some commentators say it’s the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy himself said War and Peace is “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”. Tolstoy regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel.

I think there are two reasons I’ve never got into War and Peace. I’ve always found the Russian names so confusing and have got fed up with having to keep re-reading to sort out the names of the characters. The main reason is that the huge size of the book necessitates a very small print size which is uncomfortable to read. Now with the advantage of Kindle I can adjust the font size and have already found that this has made some obscure classics more accessible. So, I’ve downloaded a currently free version of  War and Peace onto my Kindle and this time I’m determined to read it right through.

The book page for War and Peace quotes the opinions of some of the big names in literature.

“The last word of the landlord’s literature and the brilliant one at that.” —Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“The best ever Russian historical novel.” —Nikolai Leskov
“One of the most remarkable books of our age.” —Ivan Turgenev
“This is the first class work!… This is powerful, very powerful indeed.” —Gustave Flaubert
“The best novel that had ever been written.” —John Galsworthy
“This work, like life itself, has no beginning, no end. It is life itself in its eternal movement.” —Romain Rolland
“The greatest ever war novel in the history of literature.” —Thomas Mann
“There remains the greatest of all novelists — for what else can we call the author of ‘War and Peace’?” —Virginia Woolf
“Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction.” —Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve never come across Romain Rolland before but a quick Google tells me he’s a French writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915.

Rolland’s most famous novel is the 10-volume roman-fleuve (a sequence of related, self-contained novels) Jean-Christophe (1904–1912), which bring together Rolland’s interests and ideals in the story of a German musical genius who makes France his second home. The novels explore Rolland’s views on music, social matters and understanding between nations. Most of the Kindle versions of Jean-Christophe are French and I doubt that my rusty recall of the language would get me very far but there is an English translation of the first four volumes which I’ve downloaded. I read the opening of the first novel in the free sample and the style seems surprisingly modern. I’ll let you know how I get on with it but meanwhile there’s War and Peace.

As I said, War and Peace is massive:

Book One set in 1805 has 28 chapters. There are fifteen books and two epilogues. Book Ten set in 1812 has 39 chapters. There are in fact 365 chapters in total so if I was to read one chapter each day it would take a whole year to finish. Watch this space!

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