2016 Classics Challenge: Reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace

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In 2014 I read 100 books. In 2015 I decided to set myself what I thought was a more modest challenge: reading War and Peace. But while I’ve tackled an array of lengthy books in a fairly short space of time in the past, with various book clubs taking up my reading time last year it wasn’t until December that I actually started reading Leo Tolstoy’s epic classic. With the bulk of my reading coming in January, I felt it fitted the bill for my first book of the #2016ClassicsChallenge. I also had the added challenge of keeping ahead of the BBC adaptation!

I’ll stick to the recommended questions of the challenge

When I discovered this classic

I feel it has been in my consciousness for as long as I can remember – I can’t really remember ‘discovering’ it.

Why I chose to read it

In the past couple of years I’ve rediscovered the joy of reading again, and in that time I’ve tackled quite a few books I’ve always intended to read but never quite managed to get round to. Having read (and enjoyed) Les Misérables, War and Peace was the next epic novel on my to-read list. Having a BBC adaptation looming gave me an extra incentive to get reading.

What makes it a classic?

War, peace, love, death… It’s an epic novel that has everything.

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What I thought of this classic

I had put off reading this for ages, expecting it to be a long, hard slog. I was pleasantly surprised though. The chapters are fairly brief, making it fairly easy to dip in and out of.

However, I can see why people abandon it. While I enjoyed it from the off, for the first 200 pages I struggled to keep track of who was who. Every character is interchangeably referred to by their first name, surname or alternative name, with all three often used in the same paragraph. Once I got my head around all of the names, I loved it.

I’ve read people saying you can just skip the ‘war’ bits of War and Peace. This is nonsense. While the discussion of military tactics won’t appeal to everyone, the depiction of battle is completely absorbing (not to mention pretty important for character development too).

The doomed romance of Natasha and Andrei is both compelling and frustrating – more so than in the BBC adaptation, I felt. A quick ‘six months later’ on screen doesn’t really get across the desperation and frustration of months of separation, which make Natasha’s devastating error of judgment somewhat more understandable. Not to mention the fact that Anatole comes across as infinitely more charismatic in the book, rather than just seeming a little creepy.

And then there’s Pierre. There’s not much to say other than that I do love Pierre, even if the freemasonry is a little trying.

All in all, I really loved War and Peace. Vivid description, involving characters and an epic sense of history pervade the novel, coming together to create a masterpiece deserving of its classic status. The less said about the second epilogue the better though.

Will it stay a classic?

Undoubtedly.

Who I’d recommend it to

Anyone who loves a good classic and has a reasonably long attention span.

2016classicschallenge

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