Friends, Romans. I have finally, fiiiiinally finished ‘War & Peace’.
You definitely cannot “review” a book like ‘War & Peace’ except to say that it’s awesome, so instead I will share the thoughts I had while reading it. Of which there were many.
I think the story is pretty well known so watch out for some SPOILERS below, folks.
I prefer salons to battlefields
As a fan of war films and a reader of war-related books, I thought that the ‘War’ part of ‘War & Peace’ would probably be the more interesting.
Turns out that epic descriptions of “our hussars on the hill” and “the enemy in a small alcove by the brook” and the exact location of each tent, campfire and warhorse are less interesting than expected. Or rather, they felt like a lengthy distraction from what was actually going on in the story.
I was surprised to find myself more interested in the salon intrigue of the main aristocratic characters than I was in the battles. It was much more fascinating to watch with horror as some of the more nefarious characters try to use parlour-room politics to ruin our heroes (or force them into marriage).
That said, my favourite character (hugely underrated in my opinion) is Denisov, a soldier that befriends one of the main families in the book the Rostovs and who is basically just a really nice bloke who looks out for everybody.
What’s eating Prince Andrei?
One of the main characters, a nobleman called Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, is what you might describe as a ‘melancholic’. He seems to be basically disinterested in – and scornful of – everything that isn’t war or Natasha Rostov.
Both he and the other main character, Pierre, wander through the periods of war and peace trying to figure out what the meaning of life is. Unsurprisingly, they don’t really figure it out. But it made me wonder what Tolstoy was trying to say.
I think his point is that leading a life of leisure and excess doesn’t really lead to happiness. In fact, the less the characters are concerned with all the nonsense of the salons, the happier they tend to be.
Fortunately, unlike Prince Andrei, we don’t have to get blown up by a shell to realise this.
Princess Maria is my homegirl
Princess Maria is Prince Andrei’s plain, hyper-religious sister. While that description may not inspire you to look at her as a heroine, she’s actually pretty great.
She’s very kind-hearted to everyone, even when people are horrible to her, she doesn’t take any nonsense from men and she ends up being one of the richest and most generous people in the book.
She’s way more interesting than the main heroine Natasha Rostov, who’s just a bit of a moron according to yours truly, and spends all her time getting spellbound by men at balls.
The message? You don’t need all the silly aristocratic men chasing after you to be awesome. You go girl.
The BBC adaptation really helped
I usually hate watching films before reading the book, and TV series are no exception. But in this case, as I watched the TV version while I was off sick and it inspired me to read the book, it was actually pretty useful.
At the start of the book, there’s a whole section where you’re introduced to basically every character straight away and it’s really confusing.
Having the TV series to ground you and let you know who you should actually care about turned out to be really handy in the early chapters.
This book is long
It is. I mean, it’s really long.
But actually, it really helps you get sucked into the story as you spend so much time with the characters. I started off trying to plough through War & Peace as quickly as possible, but by the second volume (!) I was trying to slow down and eke the rest of it out.
It’s also less boring than I expected. True, if I’d thought it would be a complete snooze-fest I wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place, but as it happens it was really absorbing and quite exciting in parts.
If you have been thinking about trying it but have been put off the length, perhaps you’ll agree with me that once you get over the initial shock of how huge it is, its length quickly becomes a virtue.
So why not give it a try? I’m super proud of myself for finally having got to the end – it’s a book I never thought I’d read but I’m so glad I did.