Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anna Karenina

Have - finally! - finished reading this. Was glad to have read it, since I often hear it mentioned and I enjoyed quite a lot of it. But as with War and Peace, there's such an awful lot of it. I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you think. Could Tolstoy be Tolstoy if he was edited more? Big novels aren't really my choice and I wonder if the fault is in me. Do we NEED to have such a big canvas for this sort of thing to work?

Anyway, the novel. I know most of us aren't reading it this time, but Valerie has before and she and Helen have seen the adaptation, so I hoped we might get somewhere discussing at least differences. Perhaps adaptations would be more my sort of thing when the original is so long! I found the first half gripping, and the second half was mostly waiting for it to end. It seemed rather a protracted affair-going-rack-and-ruin, as we always knew it would. That said, I really appreciated the post-funeral stuff. We learned so very, very little of how people had reacted. However central Anna/Vronsky's drama was to them, it seemed to have relatively little effect on others, in the end. Rather poignant. I thought Vronsky bereaved was masterly. Absolutely masterly. And Anna's state of mind at the end was captured beautifully. All the characterisation I found vivid and convincing, and my personal view is that Tolstoy was going heavily for the Jamesian character is plot, ie the people behaved in certain very characteristic ways and hence the plot. There weren't many tricks or contrivances, I felt - just fairly straight playing out of certain givens. Which is a refreshing change from certain authors rather prone to cheating on this front!

I also very much valued Tolstoy's light touch. He makes very little authorial comment beyond apparently fairly straight narrative. That is of course an illusion - I don't doubt it's very carefully crafted - but it comes across as fairly impartial and it can be hard to work out why one has a certain impression of someone when Tolstoy hasn't explicitly told you to hold it. For instance Oblonsky. We are never told as such that he is shallow, changeable and shockingly profligate with his wife's money. We just come to that conclusion ourselves while always, it seems, being told simply how charming and sociable he is. Loved the scene, though, where he sorts out the sticky party and, like kneading dough, turns it into a functional and happy occasion. People like that are SO useful!

Karenin rather disturbed me. Never got much of a handle on him or his character changes. Help, please!

Levin and Kitty - great couple, great characters, so pleased to have something positive to think about.

Was reading a cheap translation, which was fine - not jarring at all - but the blurb was, even by the low standards of blurb, awful: "It ends tragically... yet set beside this is an abounding joy in life's many ephemeral pleasures, and a profusion of comic relief". It's my sense of humour failure again - I didn't spot much of either of the latter! Opinions, please...

Would be very interested to how Valerie or Helen would characterise the adaptation they've seen. "comic relief"? tragic? how did they play it, given it's a huge book to cut down? What was the overall tone/feeling?