War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Reading War and Peace was very challenging, but ultimately an enjoyable experience. As with Anna Karenina, the characters are excellently developed with darkness and light. Tolstoy is fantastic at characterisation: everyone ends up a long way from where they started, and he is one of the few writers who can authentically age his creations.
Not surprisingly I preferred the ‘peace’ parts (i.e. those set in the social circles of St. Petersburg or Moscow as opposed to the battlefield) but I did find the battles more interesting than I thought I would. I do struggle picturing battle scenes, for these I tried to imagine Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe style skirmishes, which was probably not amazingly accurate. Reading about Napoleon from a Russian perspective was illuminating, but I thought the ending of the book was disappointing because it got so bogged down in the philosophy of history (if there is such a thing!) and felt a little bit like it was the author’s attempt to show off how smart he undeniably was.
I would recommend reading War and Peace because ultimately it is not as difficult or as boring as it is made out to be: its just really really long. And the novel has to be so long to encapsulate what I think makes Tolstoy AMAZING: the story is all in the detail. So much of the book is reading about trivial, tiny, thoughts and feelings, but it is these small moments that make up life.