Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading Anna Karenina: Part I

When I stopped by Idlewild in July to discover August's book club selection, I learned something unsettling: We were completely bypassing August and meeting again in September...and the book was Anna Karenina. I looked at it sitting there, so big and daunting, and promptly turned around and walked out of the store. I thought, "Anna Karenina?? REALLY?? This isn't 11th grade English! If I had wanted to read this, I'd have read it by now!!!!"

So I had completely decided to skip this one. Anna Karenina...HA. But then a couple weeks passed; I remembered that book club is one of my favorite extra-curricular activities, and I didn't want to miss another meeting with no excuse besides not wanting to read the book. And I discovered that the Brooklyn Public Library had the exact version (the newest translation) we were reading available as an eBook and therefore would require literally no effort to attain...so I gave in and started reading Anna Karenina.

Anna Karenina is not a difficult read, but it's not exactly a quick one, either. It's a "story told in eight parts," and I made it through four of them before my two-week digital check-out expired. But that was perfect, because I needed a break from Anna Karenina.

What do those few of you who don't know much about Anna Karenina need to know? Russia. Social rules. Love affair.

What have I learned so far?

  • Tolstoy is detailed in his writing...painstakingly detailed. He's created these interesting, dynamic characters but sometimes goes into so much detail that it becomes incredibly boring. It's like he starts writing about one of them and then gets carried away and keeps going and going to the point where you're like "Ok, great, I see that Levin got a kick out of manual labor, but geez I don't need to know about every swoop of his scythe."
  • The story can drag...but so can the characters. They all have some sort of "falling from grace" moment, some indication that they aren't easily pigeonholed as the certain type of person you initially took them to be. You think Levin is this socially-awkward, quiet type that you kinda feel sorry for while cheering him on, and then he gets really critical of the peasants and that just seems sorta uncalled for. Vronksy seems like the knight in shining armor type, but then you find out he's in debt and tries to off himself because he just can't deal. No one's perfect, I guess.
  • On the same note, I don't particularly like any of the characters. Most of us know how the story ends, so I guess I keep reading just to see how it gets there. It is like a soap opera, but a demure, high-collared one.

Since I never had to read this in high school and thus missed the mega-analysis that English teachers force upon you, I feel like there's probably a lot I'm missing. But that's part of the reason I chose to read this with book club, because I'll get more out of it than if I chose to read it alone. (But let's be serious, that wouldn't have ever happened anyway.)


softdrink said...

I started this a few years ago and stalled after about 100 pages. I do plan to finish it though. Someday.

Selena said...

i just finished reading this a few weeks ago and i ended up really loving it. i agree about the painstaking detail. this particularly got tiresome during the parts where levin would hold the story (when you mentioned the scythe, i knew exactly which passage you were talking about).

but overall, i guess i got really invested in anna's story. even though i already knew the ending. i wonder if you'll start liking any of them in the next few parts.

Amanda T said...

I tried reading this years ago and stopped halfway through.  I've kept meaning to come back because this was always on my TBR list - but man - you are so right...the DETAIL! And I didn't feel any particular affinity for the characters - well maybe if I didn't get bored with all their detail. Sigh.

Kari said...

I don't DISlike it so far; I'm just finding myself antsy to read something else. I'm hoping this break is a good thing, because I want to know how it ends (well, I DO know how it ends, so how it gets there). Hopefully with an end in sight, I can get through it pretty quickly and will get engrossed in it. This is one of those books that has such short, staccato chapters that it's easy to read slowly and lose interest.

Kari said...

I'm with you on the characters. None of them really do anything for me, but I keep thinking that the tension has to keep growing  (just because I know the ending is climactic) and then I'll get engrossed in them and their stories.

Kari said...

Procrastinators. Leaders of tomorrow!

Natalie Joan said...

I'm hosting a read-along of Anna Karenina on my blog - not much discussion there yet, as most of my readers have fallen behind. I may have to modify my schedule. It's good to see someone else's thoughts on the novel.
I just finished Part three, and am starting to experience the 'drag.' At least parts 1 and 2 had lots of action mixed in with social commentary, so it felt like part of the story. Part 3 was all transitions and Russian agriculture. not what I expected. Still interesting, and I will keep reading, but it is becoming more of a chore. 
Stop by the read-along and comment, if you wish: http://onebookperweek.ca/2011/09/20/anna-karenina-part-2/