Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: Anna Karenina

I determined many years ago that I wanted to read many "Classic" novels.  My favorite by far is Les Miserables.  I have enjoyed A Christmas Carol, as well as many others.  I thought The Scarlet Letter was dull.  I loved The Three Musketeers but couldn't finish The Count of Monte Cristo,etc...

Now I have finished the complete and unabridged Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

After reading all 864 pages I can now say that it was absolutely NOT worth it.  This is obviously a character driven book and not a plot driven book.  There are more inane descriptions and pointless conversations than there are relevant ones.  There is so much time spent in character development that I lost the plot line entirely at times.
When this happened in Les Misearbles - at least there was a good plot to get back to.
Anna Karenina offered no such plot.  The plot of the entire book with it's nuances and important moments can all be given in about 5 minutes.  The rest is fluff and conversation. 

Some people don't mind that.  I wouldn't mind it so much if only the conversations and descriptions served some purpose.

The point at which I really became dissatisfied with the book was almost exactly half way through.  The novel is divided into 8 parts, and at the end of the 4th part a very important thing happens.  Actually - the rest of the book revolves around a decision made by Anna at that point.  Tolstoy has spent 400 pages on description and dialogue to get to this point.  And when the big decision happens, it is one sentence long.
He does not describe it, does not describe the reasoning behind it.  He doesn't do anything other than say that the decision was made, and then we send the last 400 pages discussing the repercussions of that decision.

It is MIND BOGGLING!  How can Tolstoy spend that much time describing every thought, every head tilt, every look of the eyes for every unimportant moment in the book - and not that one.  He literally spends pages and pages describing other details such as how to best use laborers during harvest season and how to choose the best spot for bird hunting.  His lack of description in that vital moment made the rest of the book miserable for me as a reader. 

Otherwise the book was all right.  The ending was predictable, though not in the details.  The characters were interesting.  The family ties were very well done and the intentions and loyalties of each character made the story intriguing.  The descriptions of Anna and how she interacted with different groups of people on different occasions made her seem very real.

I can see one reason the book is a "classic" - it describes people and their motives and thoughts very well...most of the time.

But the plot is not engaging, there are holes, and there is only enough material a 300 page book, not 800. 

My advice - if you feel the need to read this book, find an abridged version - the full version is not worth it.

Favorite Quote: 

“A free thinker used to be a man who had been educated on ideas of religion, law, morality, and had arrived at free thought by virtue of his own struggle and toil; but now a new type of born freethinker has been appearing, who’ve never even heard that there have been laws of morality and religion, and that there are authorities, but who simply grow up with negative ideas about everything, that is savages.” – Golenishchev – p. 499-500

No comments: