Posted by: Ele Quigan | June 17, 2010

‘Anna Karenina’ Leo Tolstoy – The review

5 days of sea and sunshine, what better way to relax than with an 800 page epic novel such as Anna Karenina…

It’s an interesting read, several stories interspersed, class ideals, historical changes, adultery, love, loss – like a Russian ‘Days of our lives’. An interesting insight to how the Russian aristocracy used to live, I found it hard to escape the general thread of excess throughout the novel – dinners, expensive dresses, balls, wine, vodka, shooting, do these people really work?

Jobs were not given on merit, but more nepotistic. Posts are for money, not for the work you’d actually do. Husbands weren’t found via love, but for how much money and prestige they can bring the family. Social status was based on gossip, rumours and attendance at various events rather than who you really are (though not much has changed there has it!).

I’m glad I was able to give this book the dedicated time it deserves, it would have been difficult to pick up and put down over many weeks rather than a few days. It’s heavy going, a lot of the second half feels very negative and argumentative – which left me feeling a bit flat after every stint reading it.

Admittedly there is a tragic element to novel, which by the climax feeling so exhausted from the depressing degeneration of the relationships within I was almost content that I didn’t ‘have to read about their damn arguments anymore’. I shouldn’t have been surprised, the famous opening sentence is ‘each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’.

The most interesting character, Levin, is supposedly based on Tolstoy. A lot of his views on the role of the Russian peasant, marriage, adultery are voiced through him. And there are parallels to his own life, such as his crisis of faith and attacks of insecurity, and his relationship with his wife. I only found his out after I completed the novel, and now puts Levin in a different light for me, particularly as it was written within a climate of great change within Russia, of soldiers and aristocrats becoming more liberally minded with the gap between classes starting to shrink.

It was so heavy going I am not sure if I would read it again, however I still think it was worth the hard work, and I can see why it’s seen as a classic. Next stop War and Peace’? Maybe next year…

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