Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anna Karenina

TolstoyTwo or three weeks ago, I started reading (for the first time) Anna Karenina (on my Kindle), and during my just-finished vacation I spent many hours reading and was able to finish it. It feels in some sense hopeless, pointless to write about a classic novel, because there's just no way I could ever say anything about it that hasn't been said, or have any kind of original relationship to it whatsoever. But then that kind of thing has never stopped me before, right?

I've read a lot of novels in what I thought would be roughly the genre of AK. If you'll accept my abuse of the word "genre" I mean, basically, books written in the past that concern relationships between members of the nobility and/or fallen women. Madame Bovary. Edith Wharton. Dickens. So I expected it to fall somewhere into that very broad category.

Instead I was basically blown away by it.

It was, first of all, consistently interesting to read. I thought that it probably would be, because I do like those kinds of books (by which I mean my ill-defined "genre" above, nothing more broad), but it exceeded my expectations. But it was also amazing - philosophical, morally moving, and more psychologically astute than I would have dreamed possible.

People often accuse people of younger generations of believing that their generation invented sex, and I feel I could be accused of this about psychology relative to...well, Tolstoy. I wouldn't have thought the psychological insights of this book could possibly be available to a 19th century Russian. I just wouldn't have.

It's always kind of silly to read a recognized great work and be like, "Hey, actually that book is pretty good," but that's what I'm going to say about it. It fucking rocks. It may be the very best book I have ever read. There were so many times that Tolstoy took me places I had no idea he would go, and then blew my mind.

So, if you have never read Anna Karenina, or if you read it years ago in school and it didn't really do that much for you, and you're open at all to novels of that type (set in the past; having a lot to do with marriages and relationships between members of the nobility), I highly, highly recommend reading it.


Debbie said...

Although your review may feel redundant to you, it is not to me, because although everything you've said may have already been said, it has not been said to me. I am not reading the other reviews, but I am reading yours.

Also, when you say something is awesome, it has a different effect on me than when some random stranger says the same thing.

Plus, a review isn't really just about a book, it's also about the author of the review. Now we know a little something about how you have been enjoying many hours.

Disclaimer: As you know, I also recently wrote a review of a classic. And I also was surprised by how much I liked it.

Sally said...

This is a book I've always meant to read but haven't (because I sort of forget from year to year that I want to do so). I need to correct this ASAP.

Also, I reread Madame Bovary fairly recently and was rather disappointed by it - not, I don't think, because I remembered it as better than it was (since I pretty much didn't remember it at all). What's your take?

A book that seems surprisingly modern to me (in a certain sense) is The Stranger.

Tam said...

I only read Madame Bovary in high school and, like you, I don't really remember it. I know at the time I was really struck by a Flaubert short story (St. Julien the Hospitaler) instead.

I haven't read The Stranger, but maybe I should. I read The Plague before 9th grade but don't remember much about it either, of course.