Monday, 3 December 2012

Anna Karenina - #23

I don't know what to think of this book. It's a conundrum.

It is brilliantly written. Hands down, no arguments at all. It is immersive and, just, well... beautiful. I was sitting on my back steps the other day  in the blazing Canberra spring (spring can be blazing here, trust me). I was leaning up against the brick wall, sitting on the concrete, with a view of the Brindabella mountains and a gin and tonic as it was so warm, with magpies singing and cockatoos squarking around me. But for the first time I could remember in a very long time, I was so sucked into the writing I felt like I was in a dingy Muscovite hotel, in winter in 1870 or so. The only thing that brought me back was a chicken jumping into my lap. I was astounded, once I had recovered from my confusion and slight shock from a big black chook snuggling into me.

Because of this, I wanted to keep on reading. But I wanted to keep on reading something worth reading. Tolstoy reminds me of a brilliant painter, who only paints still life. While the technique and result is breathtaking, you can't help get over the fact they have only painted a bowl of fruit. Over and over again.

Now don't get me wrong, some of the characters Tolstoy creates are fantastic. I shouldn't of loved Oblonsky but I did. I thought he was wonderful. I liked Anna right until the end. Then she went all weird. Even Vronsky I grew to like, although I didn't find him attractive (too many moustaches and bald spots for me).

But the story... You do want to know what happens to Anna and whether she gets everything to work or not  (although Russian novel should indicate that to you at the start). But if I hear one more thing about hunting or farming I think I will scream. I know that Tolstoy had all these great ideas and that this was how gentleman passed them on to the masses if they couldn't write an interesting essay. Whack a story around your philosophy! But sometimes I think he was trying to be too clever (like the 3 pages inside the mind of the dog. Slightly left field...) or too preachy (the entire last part with Levin).

However, his ability to completely convey what is happening inside peoples' minds is pretty remarkable. Anna's ... how to say this non-spoilery... "journey" at the end of the book while perfectly conveys that way of thinking, however a little too well as I just wanted to shake her and yell "Pull yourself together woman!!" I didn't like her at the end of the book. But I think because she was so real and believable and there is a reason I am not a practising psych.

There was much that I missed with this book, which is fair enough really at over 800pp. Watching this episode of the First Tuesday Book Club again after finishing the book highlighted this (sorry I can't find a youtube link to this one). Thank you Richard Flanagan for explaining the doctor in Kitty's bedroom scene in a way my mind never went to. Makes complete sense, that the doctor may have been, umhum... "servicing" her, in 1870 or there abouts, I just never made the leap (the man has read the book too many times, or enough times I guess).

Back to my conundrum. I didn't love the story, so I want to give it a 3. But I loved the writing, so I want to give it a 4. But 3.5, doesn't sit well with me. But it is the diplomatic thing to do. Also, it looks like the movie has cut out Levin and Kitty completely. I was wondering how they were going to make it 2.5 hours long. Anyway, compromising with 3.5 horrible Jude Law moustaches.


  1. I have added this to my TBR list for the Around the world in 52 books challenge. I look forward to reading it. I had a similar experience with The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey . I live in the Southern US where its between 90 and 100 degrees F in summer. Yet I was chilled and snuggled under the covers in bed reading about the vast Alaskan wilderness because the authors imagery was so vivid.

    1. It is amazing when a writer can teleport you somewhere so different to reality. I'd definitely recommend the read, as so many people tend to love it. Hopefully you enjoy it slightly more than myself. That being said, very glad I read it.