Sunday, 8 February 2015

The War & Peace Read-a-Long: Week One

Before I start rambling about Book One, let me just say how grateful I am that thirty whole people (as opposed to thirty half people, I don't know) have signed up to the War & Peace Read-a-Long. I really didn't want to sit here miserably traipsing through a 1200 page Russian novel on my own. So thanks everyone.

So. Book One!

I still can't believe I actually like this book. I know we've been talking about it on Twitter a little bit (#readingtolstoytogether) so it's not news to any of us that actually this book isn't that bad. It's obviously huge, but seriously, how short are the chapters!?

I swear I wouldn't have done so well if each chapter hadn't been two to five pages long. I was able to read one chapter and then flick through Facebook, make a coffee or amble round the room for a few minutes. Plus it makes it an awful lot easier to do the whole 'Just one more chapter before bed...' malarkey that we're all guilty of.

I've lost my review notebook, where is it? Foooounnnnd it.

When I first picked up War & Peace, I literally and genuinely started giggling to myself, just because the concept seems so ludicrous. Why did we start doing this again? Who thought this was a good idea? Oh right, me.

This is one of those sentences I never thought I'd say, but Napoleon Bonaparte was incredibly reassuring. I opened the book, saw his name on the first line and instantly felt like I knew what was going on. I didn't, at all, but I studied him in school and figured that maybe I could scrape through this after all.

Book One is very... gossipy, isn't it? In a good way, I mean. There's a lot of intrigue over who's judging who and which characters are going to be paired off with somebody else. I'm worried that the chapters are going to sort-of alternate, like in Anna Karenina though... it went: Drama, Farming, Drama, Farming, Drama. I really do feel like this book is essentially going to be: Peace, War, Peace, War, Peace. I hope not - I want it to stay like this!

I'm actually managing to keep all the characters straight in my head, mostly by figuring it out from context. Even now I couldn't actually tell you the full name of any of the characters - in my head they're referred to as the-rebel-prince-thing and the-one-with-the-'downy-lip.'

Speaking of, what is with that? Tolstoy is obsessed with Princess... oh, hang on... Princess Lise (I totally just Googled 'tolstoy princess downy lip' by the way) and her 'downy lip.' Leave the poor woman alone! Her husband, Prince Andrey (HA!) is a bit of a dick scallywag to her anyway, so don't make it worse by telling readers for the next two hundred years that she has facial hair!

I don't know, I kind of like Lise, although she's called something different in my edition... Wait a second... Liza, she's called Liza.
   "What is it? What's wrong?" asked the two princesses when they saw Prince Andrey, and caught a glimpse of the old prince without his wig, wearing his white dressing-gown and his old-age spectacles, and heard him shouting angrily.
   Prince Andrey sighed and made no reply.
   "Come on, then," he said, turning to his wife, and his "Come on, then" sounded like a cold rebuke, as if he had said, "Let's see you put on your little act."
   "Andrey, it can't be time to go!" cried the little princess, turning pale and looking fearfully at her husband.

Grr. Her husband is going off to war, she has a right to be emotional. 

While I liked Book One overall, there were two subplots that were really interesting to me - Pierre's inheritance and Liza's tyrant father. These were the points where I really actually started to care what happened in War & Peace, where it had previously been only a minor interest.

I'm going to answer my own prompts now, which seems a little odd, but the basic gist is that I like this book! The problem with that, though, is that you can never ever actually tell anybody that you like War & Peace!

1) What pre-existing ideas did you have about War & Peace?

The same as everybody else, I expect. I knew it was looooooooong (and I've since found out that it's the seventh longest book ever written in a Latin or Cyrillic alphabet) and I thought it would be stodgy, military-based, include length descriptions of battles and include 90 million characters that I couldn't keep straight.

2) On that note, is it as bad as you'd expected? :P

Not in the slightest. I'd actually finished the whole of Book One two days after we were meant to start reading. At one point I even realised that I was looking forward to reading this more than my 'fun' book!

I'm glad it opened with scandal and gossip, instead of dumping us straight into a battlefield. I'm not sure it could have retained my interest otherwise!

I've been able to keep the characters straight just fine, although I occasionally refer to SparkNotes just to make sure.

3) What strategies are you employing?
e.g. reading in short bursts, using your Kindle on your commute, taking notes about the characters...

I've unintentionally gained the habit of checking the length of a chapter before I start it. It's never been more than five pages (at the very most), so it's just a reassuring comfort blanket that it won't take that long. I think I still feel the need to do this because 21 chapters sounds like a lot to read in a week until you realise that it's only a hundred pages or so.

I've only been reading this book at home, a) because the damn thing is heavy and b) because I don't want to be that person that sits at work, reading War & Peace oh-so-obviously, and coughing when people walk past so they definitely notice what you're reading.

I know there are free versions that I could have downloaded on my Kindle, but I like being able to see that progress we're making :)

4) How are you getting on with your translation?
Very well. Thank you for asking, Past Hanna.
To be fair, the translation of Anna Karenina that I have translates
Prince Stephen Arkadyevich Oblonsky into Steve, so it couldn't be much worse.

I like that my copy (translated by Anthony Briggs) translates the meaning of idioms rather than vocabulary, so there are occasionally English phrases like 'talking the hind leg off a donkey. I feel like I'm somewhat letting the side down by failing to be annoyed by this, but it's actually really helpful.

5) Most and least favourite characters?

I like Princess Lize but not her husband.

I've also been fairly irritated by Pierre, who's superbly naive but stubborn with it. Just shut up, Pierre!
6) How do you feel about the way women are treated in the book?

You mean all those explanations as to why men shouldn't get married until they're positive their lives are over? Yeeeeeah, I just love them.

"My father's right. Selfish, vain, stupid, totally vacuous - that's what women are when they show themselves in their true colours. You see them out in society, you think there might be something there, but no, there's nothing, nothing. Don't get married, my dear fellow, just don't!" 

Thing is, I don't know enough about Tolstoy to guess whether he's being serious or satirical. I quite fervently hope the latter.

See you all next week! Click here to add your link and read the other participants' posts.


  1. I keep getting confused as to who's a fictional character and who's a real person! Hopefully by the end I'll have all the characters sorted out. - Maggie @ macarons & paperbacks

  2. I'm glad it isn't just me that remembers characters by vague descriptions - I'm managing well enough to keep the characters straight as much as the plot goes but there are only a few characters whose names I genuinely recognise straight away.

    That quote from Andrey (or Andrew if you're reading my edition...) was when he went from being a bit annoying to being a complete tool. He's my least favourite character so far, definitely.

    Incidentally, the SEVENTH longest book?! I knew it was long but JEEZ. One week at a time, I guess...

    1. I'm glad too! I also only have a few characters that I recognise straight away, I'm hoping that I'll remember more people as the book goes on...!

    2. Andrew? Seriously? I mean, it's not as bad as 'Steve' from Anna Karenina, but still.

      I reeeeeallly hate him, but not quite as much as Prince Vasily. I'm on Book Three now and I really hope he suffers from some tremendously horrible accident.

      Seventh, yup. Think how good it will feel when we've read it :)

  3. I completely agree about the 'downy lip' thing, it's a bit offensive, isn't it?! As is Lize doesn't have enough to deal with already! Speaking of, Andrei is so awful to her, I'm not a fan at all.
    I'm also surprised that I'm quite enjoying it so far, although I am a little scared to take my book out of the house, both because it's so heavy but also partly because I really don't want to seem like that pretentious!
    Here's to next week's reading! Hope you're having a lovely weekend :) xx

    1. He's Andrei in your book? Well that's THREE different names in three different editions already. But no, I'm not a fan - although Tolstoy isn't overly nice to her himself! Downy lips and all.

      Haha, I feel the same - I don't want to be THAT person who pretentiously reads War & Peace in public!

  4. I am worried that a few people have talked about their Napoleon knowledge being reassuring... I have no knowledge at all! I know that he was short?! That's about it!! Hehe. Maybe I need to brush up on my European history a bit...

    1. Haha, if you haven't had a problem yet, I wouldn't worry about it. I haven't found it to be particularly useful, other than the first sentence making me feel a bit better!

  5. I'm not participating, but I admire those who are, especially if they are all being as thorough as you in their posts!


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