The Literary Bungy: Tolstoy in One Week

on Monday, January 31, 2011
Call me what you will; a sucker for punishment, an hopeless addict, a complete bore - but having just knocked over Anna Karenina in less than five days I suddenly have it in my head that I should attempt to dash through War and Peace in a week. It's not that I loved the tortuous melodrama of Tolstoy's 'greatest love story ever told'. It was okay. There was the odd moment of greatness. And there were only a few times that I felt a strong urge to slap that bunch of "worried-well" aristocratic prats and champagne socialists with a cold trout. But hey, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, it's Anna F*$#n Karenina! They're allowed to be soap opera archetypes.

To be honest though, I kind of failed to see what all the fuss is about. If Tolstoy was writing today he'd be storyline director in the scripting department of whatever conglomerate of monkeys pens Days Of Our Lives. And no wonder he went totally nuts. Imagine having to read over drafts of this treacle for months or years on end. Ploughing through it once has a tangible effect on one's sanity. Multiple attempts is sure to melt grey cells en masse. This isn't a rant against the Russian greats. I get the Dostoevsky obsession - his moral clarity and narrative verve is unquestionable and his books, for the most part, are damn great to read. But Tolstoy? Well, he's just... kind of alright.

And yet, dear friends, my slightly-addled brain seems intent on doing the War and Peace thang in the near future. For a while I couldn't work out why. Maybe it's like getting a tattoo. Sure, it hurts like all buggery while it's being done but pretty soon the adrenaline rush kicks in, you look down at your latest ink and against all better judgement you want more. Or perhaps, it is the thrill of the challenge. Yes, reading the mega-epic classics is the extreme sports of the literary world. War and Peace is like bungy jumping off Niagara Falls. Giving yourself one week in which to do it is like taking the plunge without measuring the chord or correcting for weight. Now we all know what an absolute coward I am when it comes to risking my bodily welfare so I ain't ever strapping a rubber band to my ankles. But my brain, heck yes I'm willing to risk that. Who needs sanity anyway? I have a few books I really want to read first but I think sometime in February or maybe March I'm finally going to do it. What is a week spent reading the greatest, longest, potentially most boring book of all time when doing so will earn me both accolades and an express ticket to the loony bin? It worked for Leo and it is darn well gonna work for me!


marciano guerrero said...

An amusing rant indeed. I wish you could tell us a bit about the psychology of the characters and why their appear shallow to you. Or, maybe a bit of syntactical analysis as to why Tolstoy's prose will last as long as Homer's poetry will. A rant for rant's sake may have some merit, but to just sulk like a spoiled child is insane--or the beginnings of it. Eccentricity is respectful, but insanity?

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