The Book Lover?

July 26, 2012

Having entitled myself the 'Book Lover' I haven't exactly had an abundance of posts about books, literature, or reading. The word 'farce' might spring to mind.
However, here is my long-awaited first novel of the summer, and how desperate I have been to begin, (I had to ban myself so that it wouldn't interfere with the revision for my exams)

Anna Karenina
Well one of the reasons for my delay is because it took me forever. I would say I'm a fairly quick reader, but with a lot going on and a pretty hefty sized book, it took me a while. 

A quote from the blurb epitomises the novel for me, it is a 'brilliant, multi-layered depiction of an entire society'. It astounds me how Tolstoy was able to capture and communicate such deep, profound and poignant emotions that are experienced, often unknowingly, in: love, joy, hurt, confusion, upset, deception, and death.
The novel contrasts different views of love, marriage, religion, and the purpose of life through several families, (the Oblonksys, the Karenins, and the Levins) all of whom are interconnected, but who follow different principles in living their lives. The theme of parenthood is prevalent throughout and the dynamics within relationships are intricately described.

What I enjoyed:

  • The language and wording is simply beautiful and is what has always attracted me to 19th Century literature. Tolstoy is the master of description, carefully crafting his prose, but allowing them to remain pure and free from seeming contrived. 
In describing his guests
'..he meant to ask the well-known crank and enthusiast Pestsov, a Liberal and a great talker, a musician and historian, and the dearest of fifty-year-old boys, who would serve as a sauce or condiment to Koznyshev and Karenin; while he himself, Oblonksy, would stir them all up..' 
As Kitty goes into labour
'Little as there was affectation and conventionality in Kitty's general character, yet Levin was astonished at what was revealed to him now that every veil had fallen and the very kernel of her soul shone through her eyes
In Anna's climatic fatal chapter
'hope and despair, alternately chafing the old sores, lacerated the wounds of her tortured and violently fluttering heart'

  • Something that I have never experienced before is such a conflict of feelings towards the characters and the way in which I ought to perceive them:
Is Anna guilty and to be condemned, or brave, passionate, independent and worthy of our respect? Does she humiliate her generous and accepting husband?

Is Karenin cruel; indifferent; insufferably cold and emotionless; and overwhelmingly concerned with his professional life and the male sphere, at the expense of Anna's happiness?

Why should Vronsky be exempt from the condemnation and cruelty of society given his very prominent role in the fall and subsequent degradation of his married lover?

  • Their acute and subtle emotions are represented in such a realistic and credible way- with regards to the quarrels between lovers, but the immense power of this emotion is handled skilfully by Tolstoy. Even the conflict within our own thoughts and the frequent contradictions that arise within us are present. Tolstoy elucidates our own fickle attitude from an overwhelming passionate love, to the absence of it- and the very rapid dissipation between these two binary oppositions.
  • I love reading about courtship, and the courtship in this novel is perfectly tragic, dramatic, but romantic. The characters are not without flaws, but that is why they are so believable and why, for me, Kitty and Levin are so endearing as a naive couple that grow, as does their love, into an experienced married one. Levin is a character for whom my fondness grew, and it is he who acts as the voice of Tolstoy's own thoughts and on whom Levin is based, (more on Tolstoy in another post.)

On the other hand, if you need a lot of action and get bored by long 'transgressions' from the plot then you might not like this book. The 800 + pages aren't for the impatient reader. Sometimes it would be argued that it's difficult to justify such a number of pages, but in this instance, and whilst Tolstoy wasn't obviously concerned with being succinct, I did a) not mind, and b) enjoyed the (unnecessary) depth of description.
This was primarily due to my small knowledge of some of the topics concerned. There can be nothing better than reading a novel and it relating, reinforcing, or extending your previous knowledge. In my first year of A-levels I studied Russian history and thus the references to the landed gentry and their relationship with the serfs after their emancipation in 1861, the reference to Russification, and the feeling of liberalism and revolution in conflict with authoritarian Tsars, were particularly interesting to me.
Ultimately however, if you have no interest in reading about agriculture you might struggle with getting through large chunks of text regarding this issue. There are two main plots, of which adultery and love concerning Anna Karenina, constitutes only one.
The depth in which Tolstoy writes about education, art, philosophy, science, economics etc can be overwhelming.

As such, if you enjoy feeling as if you had learnt something then this novel is perfectly capable of awarding you that pleasure with the plethora of social issues it examines and comments upon. 
The book certainly makes you question yourself and your beliefs and in that way appears timeless, despite the very precise societal influences, and the general context which is set so distinctly in time and place.

The novel is original and for that reason it doesn't seek to occupy itself with likeable characters, pleasant encounters, and a happy plot, but the aspects that the reader struggles to plow through is what makes it such a realistic commentary on life and such a rewarding read.

So if you think you might enjoy the book, I certainly recommend giving it a try. If you have already read it I would love to hear what you thought.

..Lastly, and irrelevantly, if you want a book that will impress others, this is a safe bet. The number of people who commented on it, (whilst I read it on my break at work), mostly in shock that someone in the modern day could find the time or even enjoy a book is pretty shocking in itself. Indeed, according to one of my colleagues, reading a book that is 'larger than the width of my finger' is completely absurd and should not be embarked upon ..


  1. Beautiful post. I like your ambition to read the entire novel. This is a good indicator for the fact that it worth's being read.

    Maybe I will give it a chance too.

  2. oh, I love Tolstoy! remeber, i read Anna karenina when i was at high school! it was very impressive!

    So interesing to see a foreigner reading russian literature :)

  3. Beautiful post! I love Tolstoy & I love your blog!! :) x

    1. Aww thank you so much! What have you read from Tolstoy, this is my first? X

  4. I really ought to read this at some stage..!

    1. Please do, set aside a good while for it, then let me know what you thought! Just checked out your blog- i think i know what I'm going to spend my evening doing :) X