Every general and every soldier was conscious of his own insignificance, aware of being but a drop in that ocean of men, and yet at the same time was conscious of his strength as a part of that enormous whole.
I haven’t attempted War and Peace before because at around 1000 pages long it’s a pretty intimidating read! However having loved Anna Karenina and with the new BBC adaptation airing I knew this was the perfect opportunity to read the book – now or never as they say! With it being such a large tome I thought I’d review it in stages instead of attempting the whole thing in one go! Plus it’ll be fun once I’ve finished the whole book to look back and compare what I thought at the time of reading with what I know when I’ve finished. Here are my thoughts on Books One to Three…
Less Intimidating Than You’d Think…
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is set in Russia and follows characters from various walks of life as they make their way from the drawing room to the battlefield, attempting to find happiness or a sense of purpose in between. At the beginning of the book we’re introduced to numerous families but the focus is particularly on the solemn and ambitious Prince Andrei and his good-natured (but socially clueless), philosophising friend Pierre. As one joins the war against Napoleon the other attempts to navigate his way through the minefield of Russian society.
They wept because they were friends, and because they were kind-hearted, and because they – friends from childhood – had to think about such a base thing as money, and because their youth was over…
So my first thoughts are…this novel is a lot easier to read than I thought it would be! The names and families are a little confusing to begin with – there are multiple Annas, Natashas, and a few characters go by different names depending on who they’re talking to (it took me a while to work out that “Bolkonski” was Andrei) – but editions usually include a list of the families and by the end of Book One you have a firmer grip on who is who. You have to give credit to Tolstoy for being able to create such a large but distinctive cast of memorable characters and personalities – each bundled up with their own complex relationships and motivations.
From St. Petersburg Drawing Rooms to War on the Battlefield
The transition from the glamorous parties of St. Petersburg to the rough and uncompromising camp at Austerlitz is a stark one and this is the reflected in the characters’ own thoughts and actions. Tolstoy describes Andrei Bolkonski’s transition from the lethargic, cold Prince who is bored of society to the ambitious, adventure-seeking aide-de-camp of the battlefield. In fact it’s only on the battlefield that we get our first real glimpse of his inner thoughts.
Andrei’s silent, composed manner is juxtaposed with that of his friend – the broad, idealistic and slightly bumbling Pierre Bezukhov. Having garnered a bit of a reputation for getting carried away with his passionate political views and not really understanding the finer points of “social decorum”, he is just as surprised as everyone else when he inherits a position of power and is suddenly thrust into the upper echelons of Russian society. It’s endearing to watch on as poor, humble Pierre is swept away by his conniving relatives’ plans – so far he’s really powerless despite being in a position of power. His gentle nature and earnestness makes him my favourite character so far…
All these memories will be no more, none of them will have any meaning for me.
Tolstoy is also really adept at dropping in these really poignant moments amidst all the action. There are some quite touching scenes in which Andrei struggles internally with the realisation (I wouldn’t call it fear) that he might not survive the war to see his family or the “lofty sky” again, versus his desire to prove himself and the lure of adventure. As you hurtle towards the end of Book Three it’s almost painful to read as Rostov rides through the battle and attempts to harden himself against the vivid scenes of his fellow soldiers being struck down among the mayhem.
So basically, I’m really enjoying War and Peace so far! I’m hoping the next couple of books return to Pierre, the Bolkonskis and the Rostovs, so we can have a bit more of a glimpse into society life and how the war is effecting the families left behind. I know I’m only about a fifth of the way through but I’m already feeling like this could become one of my favourite books. Let’s see if I can get through Books Four to Six before next Wednesday…
Drop me a line in the comments below or on Twitter if you’re reading War and Peace at the moment too! I’d love to compare notes and hear what you think of the TV series.
Comparisons to the BBC 2016 War and Peace Adaptation – Episode 1
- Paul Dano was the PERFECT choice for the role of Pierre – exactly how I imagined him! His performance during the death scene with Count Bezukhov made me tear up (just a little bit). Not to bring the tone down but…new literary crush?!?
- What on earth is going on with the Kuragins? I’m pretty sure they don’t come across as that malevolent in the book. Plus I’ve only come across ONE SENTENCE so far that even hints at *that* incestuous plotline.
- I feel like they’ve focused a lot on Natasha…I wonder if she matures into a more prominent role later in the book?
- Don’t you just hate Prince Vasili and Anna Mikhaylovna? So much conspiring!
- I’m glad they kept Denisov’s ‘w’s!