Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

Eight books down, fifty-two to go...


I had a small heart attack this morning when I went to cross this book off my handwritten list of Classics Club books and couldn't find it. I instantly became convinced that it wasn't on my list at all and that I'd read this 850 page whopper for no reason. Luckily, it was just a case of not being able to read my own writing. I think I would have cried otherwise...

I first read Anna Karenina in year 11 literature, and we had a pretty rough time together, Anna and I. Still, with the exception of the big train station scene, I'd forgotten practically everything about the story and managed to convince myself that my vaguely remembered dislike was just because I didn't enjoy the assignments I had to write on it. Unfortunately, my vaguely remembered dislike proved to still apply 15 years after the fact.

I...did not enjoy this. There were elements of it that I enjoyed, to be sure. But for the most part, this was a long hard slog. I found myself tuning out and reading the same page over and over again, and had to force myself to pay attention to read it in 30 page blocks to actually get through it.

I think the main problem for me was that I didn't find any of the major characters engaging. I didn't like Anna or Vronsky at all, Oblonsky drove me nuts, Dolly was kind of a wet blanket, and the most interesting of the lot - Levin and Kitty - became dull as dishwater once Kitty had their first child. I mean, I get that Anna was miserably trapped in a loveless marriage. But her story felt, to me, like the epitome of #firstworldproblems. And while Levin's proposal to Kitty was pretty much the most adorable thing ever, all the tangents about Russian peasants and their ties to the land or politics or horses or election processes reminded me far too much of Victor Hugo's hundred page tangents in Les Miserables: probably fascinating to people at the time, but not even remotely of interest to me.

I honestly think the thing that annoyed me most about Levin's character was the last 50-odd pages in which he's clearly suffering from depression, but everything is made right when he finds religion. Because uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. SERIOUSLY??? I know Levin is clearly the counterpoint to Anna's character - they both love passionately, have serious trust issues, struggle to bond with their children, and have mental health problems - but did we HAVE to have a "JESUS FIXES EVERYTHING!!" storyline?! Blurgh.

I did appreciate the complexity of his characters - there's no villain, no hero. They all inhabit the moral grey areas, they all experience jealousy and hatred and humility and kindness. But ultimately, I didn't care about any of them and wasn't engaged in their stories.

One thing I *did* find interesting was all the ideas about giving additional power to the peasant classes, and making them invested in the land and their work. One line only pages from the end made me flip to the front to check what year the book was first published because I felt sure it must have been not long before the Russian Revolution:
"Twenty years ago we should have been silent, but to-day the voice of the Russian people is heard, ready to rise up as one man and sacrifice themselves for their oppressed brethren." 
In that little speech, Koznyshev is talking specifically about Russia going to fight for the freedom of Christians in Serbia, but it could easily be applied to the workers uniting to free themselves from the rule of the elite in 1917. In all honesty, though, I was desperately hoping for the Revolution to happen 50 years ahead of schedule during this book just so that there would be something worth paying attention to in the story...

I know I'm well and truly in the minority in not loving this book. But I was firmly on the "HOW MUCH MORE??" train from start to finish. And no, the irony of being on the "kill me now" train is not lost on me. Final verdict? 2.5 stars, and the half star is for the adorableness of Levin's proposal...

Have you read Anna Karenina? What did you think?

K xx


  1. I remember liking this book but (a) there are different versions out there and mine had a lot of the farmer talk in it which I (b) did not enjoy a lot. (This counting and numbering is a bit off, sorry). But I read this book maybe 10 years ago so I don't remember much. Parts of it were a struggle but I did manage to go through it quite fast considering the size of the book or in comparison to Dickens novels.

  2. I have yet to read "Anna Karenina." I read "The Death of Ivan Ilych" in 10th grade and positively abhorred it and swore I'd never read any Tolstoy again. I may pick up "Anna Karenina" at some point in the future more so to study it (sort of like what I tried to do with "Wuthering Heights"...haven't finished it yet), but maybe even not for that reason. Your review is not particularly encouraging. Lol.


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