It took me just under two months to get through War and Peace. I loved most of it, but it ended for me on a rather a flat note as I could scarcely understand a word of Epilogue Part 2, which takes up the last 42 pages.. In this concluding section Tolstoy reflects on what exactly is history (at least I think that is what he is doing!) and goes on at great length about the relationship between free will and the laws of necessity. I was relieved to read afterwards in a commentary on the book that the second epilogue is seen by others too as repetitive and unnecessarily complex.
There was an interesting piece in the commentary from the translator of my version. Language evolves of course, and whereas once it may not have raised an eyebrow to read that ‘he ejaculated with a grimace’ phrases such as that or ‘Andrey spent the evening with a few gay friends’ probably do need updating as the years go by. It also notes that previous translations were by refined young ladies and that was why according to an earlier translation when one man gets his leg blown off by a cannon ball there is a cry of - ‘Ekh! You beastly thing!’
So trying hard to forget about my struggles with the second epilogue what I loved about the book was the way it brings Tolstoy’s characters so vividly to life. They are all so recognisably human, making many mistakes along the way and having to live with the results of appallingly bad decisions, but in several brilliantly written scenes demonstrate the sheer joy of surrendering to a moment and revelling in some pleasure be it as frivolous as dancing or singing. It’s like – we know we are going to die one day – so for god’s sake let’s enjoy ourselves whilst we are here.
And it is filled with dry humour. Having gone along with the traumas endured by Pierre whilst he was a prisoner of the French we learn that ‘He was suffering from what the doctors called a bilious fever. Despite their treatment – with blood letting and various medicines – he recovered.’
I would actually quite like to read it again. But not before I have got through a few instantly forgettable crime novels first. Light reading here I come!
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