I just finished this about ten minutes ago, so my impressions are rather unformed. I can, however, say this. It is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Really, I hear you cry, so a historic work of world literature is worth reading in your opinion? Stop the press.
I know, I know. Still – I was expecting something much more stodgy. This is Jane Austen for men, with extra testosterone and a full beard. And his characterisations! Every one a masterpiece, even if only a few lines are spoken, they seem to breathe all by themselves. And there are a lot of characters. At first I thought I was going to lose track of all the princesses and countesses, but each one is so finely drawn that they are unmistakable.
Perhaps things change over the course of the succeeding books, but here the main concern is people and their domestic lives, and how Tolstoy lays their inner lives bare – not by telling you what they are thinking – but by directing you to look at their body language and microscopic facial tics.
So: I look forward to part two.
Next: Haven’t decided.
Get it here
This is another fable-like work from Tolstoy, and one I found more satisfying in the detail than in the overall story. The tale, such as it is, is a simple one: A money grasping businessman goes out to close a deal, taking his servant and horse with him, when the weather suggested that wiser heads would have stayed at home. After losing their way a few times, and meeting various people who are unnecessary for the plot, they become stuck, and are faced with a night in the open, during a blizzard. Without giving the end away, the businessman performs a selfless act, which changes his world view.
The problem for me was that I didn’t believe the transfiguration of the man, but instead found the great realism of the background made me want to explore that further. Tolstoy displays a great ability to render a character likeness with his thumb-nail, so to speak, and I completely believed in the reality of all of the characters, which made the conclusion all the more troublesome for me. Surprisingly, I also found the god-like knowledge of the narrator jarring: he records with confidence every half-formed thought of the businessman, and shows great skill in laying bare human thought processes. I just wondered how he got to know all these facts. Of course, every novelist has to solve this problem through some trickery; its just that I wasn’t fooled by Tolstoy this time: I knew it was just a man telling a story he had made up, and consequently, I could not react at an emotional level.
One extra thought: Tolstoy really has it in for businessmen, and the pursuit of wealth. Fine if you have it already. Thoreau has a very low opinion of the profit motive as well, so as a professional capitalist myself, I feel rather got at. Writers as a breed seem to take a dim view of money. Unless they inherit it. Or until they get some. So; it seems you can go after it, but you must never make the going after it look like you are trying.
Brooks Jensen reads this for Librivox with the confidence of a seasoned pro, but I had not heard his voice before. I will look out for it in future. I would love to know his views on the work, and his motivations for reading it. Perhaps I have missed something.
Next: ‘The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton