Ah, War and Peace. That one 19th Century Russian novel that the makers of Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! want you to believe that an elementary school-age child can finish during winter break. It is also considered one of the best novels, if not the best, novel ever written. I started reading War and peace sometime in 2005 or 2006 and did not complete it until December 2021.
Why so long? One reason is that I was reading it on and off. I’d read a few chapters, start another book and then not pick it up until months later. Another reason is, well, I thought I was enjoying it but I wasn’t.
For those who don’t know, War and Peace is one of two novels written by 19th Century Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. The other is Anna Karenina. It’s about five affluent families living in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. We see their lives go from normal to some form of tragedy, unhappy marriages, births and a handful of them fight in the wars. Oh, and Tolstoy throws in some of his personal views. For the first ¾ or so of the book, we rarely see his views, after that there are ENTIRE CHAPTERS where it’s nothing but him ranting about something. There are moments when the book goes multiple chapters where it’s nothing but his personal views.
Not that there is anything wrong with a novelist putting his views into a novel, but it’s only OK in moderation. Tolstoy goes all out to the point where I was skimming or skipping chapters. His views were mostly pro-Russian Tzar, heavily Christian ideology and heavily anti-Napoleon. He was a product of his time.
As for the story itself, at first, I was interested in these rich Russians and their personal lives. As the book went on I stopped caring. I’m going to say something you never hear anyone say about War and Peace: it’s dull.
Yes, you heard me. Dull. Yes, there is some tragedy in the book, but it takes TWO-HUNDRED PAGES to describe this tragedy it gets boring.
The only character I found the slightest bit interesting was Pierre. He had the most character development out of any other character. Even the characters that are supposed to be real-life characters (Napoleon is a character) come ass boring also. Pierre had a failed marriage, was uncertain of what to do with his life, tried everything to be happy and still couldn’t find his place in the world. Pierre was the only reason I kept reading.
I remember one of my college English professors, who read War and Peace four times, saying that the book had some of the best battle scenes in literature. This guy never read Lord of the Rings. The battle scenes in War and Peace are 90% people standing around talking or going from one place to another talking. The other 10% is actual fighting. The third and final battle had characters trying not to get hit by cannon fire. That was the most interesting battle in the book.
I’m not saying War and Peace is terrible. It’s not terrible in the slightest. Again, the problem is the book suffers from one of the reasons 21st Century people HATE 19th Century literature: it takes forever for something to happen and the characters spend the majority of the book talking about mundane things. I’m still glad I read it because I consider it to be one of those “bucket list” books. I’m one of those people who tried reading, quit, tried it again, quit a second time and then decided to take it slow and make it a journey. A journey I’m glad I took and can finally put it behind me.