Friday, December 9, 2011

Upon Finishing War and Peace

Did I like it? Sure, I liked it well enough. That is to say, I liked chunks of it. Parts were snooze-inducing, but parts were as fast-paced and fun to read as any modern thriller. It's only when you see the whole and start thinking about the scope and how it all came together — and start missing the characters — that you realize that you did truly enjoy it; that you didn't just keeping reading to say you'd read it.

So was it worth it? Absolutely! Indeed, the hardest part isn't reading the novel itself — contrary to popular opinion, it's not difficult at all; it's just long. No, the hardest part is coming up with anything reasonably intelligent to say from 1,400 pages and three months of reading. 

One thing I can tell you for sure; here's my favorite quote from the novel, about Pierre:
"And it was the lack of an purpose that gave him the complete and joyous sense of freedom underlying his present happiness." 
If you're unfamiliar, Pierre, a Russian nobleman who inherits a huge sum when his father dies, spends most of the novel on a sort of vision quest to find life's meaning. He carouses with women. He drinks heavily. He gets religion. He turns philosophical. And then mystical. But then he finally gets it, and the moment of his catharsis is one of the great moments of the novel. I loved it!

The thing that most surprised me about the novel is the much higher proportion of "peace" scenes to "war " scenes. Only about a third of the novel takes place on the battlefield, or deals with other men-at-war-related stories, including a few chapters from the point of view of Napoleon, which were hilarious in that it was clear how much Tolstoy detests him.

But it's in one of these war scenes in which Tolstoy gets to what seems to be the point of the novel, inasmuch as you can pinpoint a single point in a 568,880-word novel.
"The course of a battle is affected by an infinite number of freely operating forces (there being no greater freedom of operation than on a battlefield, where life and death are at stake), and this course can never be known in advance; nor does it ever correspond with the direction of any one particular force."
Just as true in war as in peace (life), yeah? This is an idea Tolstoy brings full circle in his (rather tedious) epilogue, in which he discusses his philosophy of history and argues that free will is false.

Anyway, so here we are, at the end of a three-month climb. And you know what the best part about it is? Finally (finally!), this photo I've been bandying about on this blog for more than two years isn't just a sad example of blatant grandstanding anymore. It's real. Yeah, this actually happened! Woohoo!  


  1. Congrats! I've read Anna Karenina and that wasn't hard either, just long. I don't think I'll be ready for War and Peace until I've had quite a break...

  2. Many props my friend! Welcome to the club!

  3. Congrats Greg! I have yet to tackle this particular book. However, I think I'll wait until I have had the time to knock over some of the books I've already got on my shelves here at home before grabbing this one. :)

  4. Kudos, I'm going to have to take this challenge soon. My issue with big books is that after about 800 pages they start to be mind numbing. I solved that, by the way, by reading novellas on the weekends and the monsters during the week.


  5. Congrats!

    The only thing that annoyed me with this one was the ending. I quite liked where the characters were left and would have prefered the novel to end there but instead I had like another 100 pages of essay type writing.

  6. Man I bow down to you - I've always meant to read that mother. Not because the story appeals to me but, just to be able to say I'd done it. You deserve a "I've read War and Peace" T-shirt.

  7. Way to go. Reading War and Peace was one of my reading goals thisvyear. I only made it 100 pages. I might have to admit someday that the Russians and I are not meant to be, but I'm not ready yet, so I'll try again.

  8. Congrats on this! Now, please tell me what your secret was for working this into your reading life while still reading other things. I failed to crack that code when the W & P read-along started in February and threw in the towel by March, but I'd really love to join the finishers' club.

  9. Congrats. You may have inspired me to give War and Peace another change. Go you!

  10. @Suzanne - Thanks!

    @Sam - Yeah, I read AK earlier this year, too. I think I may have liked that one a bit more than W&P.

    @julzreads - Thanks! It does feel like a pretty exclusive club. ;)

    @lady T - Thanks!

    @Mozette - Thanks, and I hear ya on tackling existing books. That book had been on my shelf since college, so it actually fell into that category...

    @Man - Sounds like a good strategy. I love big books - they only get mind-numbing if they're, well, mind-numbing! ;)

  11. @Jessica - Yeah, I'm sure there's all kinds of arguments that could be made about why Tolstoy chose to continue the remaining characters' paths eight years after the story (the fluidity of history, etc.), but the second epilogue was a real, real struggle to get through. I wanted to understand it, so I spent probably more time on it than it warranted.

    @Gary - The "I read War & Peace" tshirt is an incredibly awesome idea! May have to steal that... And, really, the story itself is pretty good.

    @LBC - There were definitely times when I was bored with it - and took a week or so off. Just gotta tell yourself to keep going, like a marathon... ;)

    @Booklady - I made myself read 20 pages a day - usually right after word. That way I had the rest of the night to read other stuff. Now I need something else to fill those pre-dinner hours, or I'll just wind up napping every day!

    @Sarah - Thanks! Go for it!

  12. yayy!! So how did you feel about Natasha's fate in the first epilogue?

  13. @Ingrid - She transformed into something unrecognizable - tragic! Cured me of my crush on her, that's for sure. ;)

  14. Congrats on finishing! It's on my list of things to complete before my 26th birthday... clock is ticking.

  15. Congrats on completing this one. It's truly a feat. When I read the title of this post the very first thing I thought of was that you could edit your photo caption so that it doesn't read "I've never actually read War and Peace".

  16. I enjoyed it, but the epilogue really ended the book on a sour note. Wish he'd left it out!

  17. Congratulations! I bought it at the beginning of the year with the intention of joining the War and Peace read-along. Yep. That didn't happen. Now it sits on my shelf mocking me. So, I applaud your accomplishment!

  18. When I read this book, I definitely kind of skimmed through the war scenes.

  19. anyway - good photo
    ha ha



  20. Just a wee congratulations here! Now you can talk about it and joke about it as someone who has actually read it. Whoo!

  21. He carouses with women. He drinks heavily. He gets religion. He turns philosophical. And then mystical. But then he finally gets it, and the moment of his catharsis is one of the great moments of the novel. I loved it!

    This isn't something I really talked about this week on my own blog, but this is also something that really frustrated me about W&P, because I don't "get" this at all and I think it's silly. All during Pierre's "seeking" phase, I just thought he was being an idiot, and then when he "finds" what he's looking for in prison and on the march out of Moscow, I was particularly disgusted with Tolstoy's glamorization of poverty and equation of severe physical hardship with petty inconveniences. This kind of seeking behavior is always something I find boring in novels, and Tolstoy's solution to it is part of what I find offensive about him.

    Although part of it I did find very funny. When Pierre was all into masonry, all I kept thinking was, "Dude, Tolstoy, I know that this is supposed to make me feel like the Masons are silly and whatever Pierre finds later will be more real, but all these ways you make fun of the Masons are also how I would make fun of your mysticism!" Oh well.

    Anyway, congratulations to us both!

  22. I finished the novel myself moments ago after a year's worth of reading. (More time than the average person but I read it very very slow). I enjoyed reading about all the characters and stories throughout the book. I think my favorite part was when Andrew was on the battlefield looking up at the lofty sky. I really love those little philosophical moments. I'm satisfied with the way all the characters ended up sharing their lives in one big household. Unfortunately, I think the second epilogue was overkill. I think I will read through it again to try and understand it more, but I'm surprised at how he just hit us over the head with a brick at the end like that. Anyways, I'm glad to join you all in the 'I read War and Peace club'!