A Very Short Review of a Very Long Novel: War and Peace (1869), by Leo Tolstoy

War and PeaceThis book is #16 on my Classics Club list.

War and Peace is well-known for being an absolute behemoth of a book. Full of deep characterisation and intricate plotting, it would probably take several reviews to begin to cover all the material in this 1,300-page novel.

So instead of trying to pick apart the immense complexity of this book, I’m going to go in the other direction, and simplify it as much as possible. Because I don’t want to bore you, or end up re-reading the entire book again (seriously, if I have to re-read this thing straight away I will cry). Also there’s a new season of Call the Midwife on at the moment – I mean… I have much work to do for… uni. Yeah. Um. Uni work. That’s right. So in the interests of brevity, I present you with:

Ten Things I Learnt From Reading War and Peace

1. Historians suck. They majorly suck. Why? Because they’re not nearly as clever as Tolstoy, that’s why. So instead they write about ‘destiny’ and ‘great men’ and ‘the will of the people’, and bore readers with extremely long expeditionary essays that seem to – OH WAIT. That’s exactly what Tolstoy does. Only in reverse. Gasp!

2. Napoleon was a massive dick. If you don’t believe me, read every book about him ever.

3. Natasha Rostova FTW.

4. Family life is the best. Everyone should go away and make happy little families, especially the women because, let’s face it, they live for that crap (seriously, Natasha and Mary may as well be walking around with matching ‘I Heart My Husband’ t-shirts by the end of the novel).

5. War is bad. In case you were on the fence about this issue.

6. Am I the only person who felt cheated by the fact that the last part of the book is literally just essays on the subject of war and history? It’s like watching a great season of Parks and Recreation and then finding out that there’s a mandatory quiz about small-town American governmental policies in the Obama era tacked on at the very end. I’m not saying the subject isn’t interesting in itself, but surely telling your readers the exact moral of a story once you get to the end of it is a little patronising?

7. Also, the moral of this particular story, if you’re a woman in early nineteenth-century Russia, seems to be that you can either be a religious nutjob like Princess Mary (good), a spontaneous and passionate girly-girl like Natasha (also good), or a real grade-A bitch like Helene, in which case you’re going to conveniently die of some terrible disease so your husband can marry someone else. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. At least you’ll have nice shoulders.

8. Don’t join the Freemasons. Seriously, those guys are crazy.

9. Always listen to nineteenth-century Russian peasants (this information is equally applicable to the twenty-first century, in case you’re wondering). They may never have read a newspaper or had a proper wash, but they’ve got it right, man.

10. Aaand finally, if you ever find yourself in early nineteenth-century Moscow, you may want to clear out of there pronto, because the French are about to make a very big mess.

Rating: 4 Stars

4 Stars

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14 thoughts on “A Very Short Review of a Very Long Novel: War and Peace (1869), by Leo Tolstoy

  1. Ha ha! Great review. This book is a major guilt-trip for me at the moment because I haven’t read it but I am watching the BBC series…. And I’m loving the series… But I always read the book before I see the movie… Argh!

    • It’s always tricky to try and read the entire book before the series begins, especially when it’s as ridiculously long as this one! Honestly, if I hadn’t had to read this for uni I don’t think I would have been able to finish the book in time. :)

      • The main reason I haven’t read it is that it’s just so big and heavy (literally). I did some research on which translation was the best and then could only get it as a hard copy rather than an e.book. Have now decided that I’m going to cut the spine and create ‘volumes’ so that I don’t have to lug it around (I realise some people will have passed out in horror right about now).
        In terms of the heaviness of the content I’ll just have to see how I go. I read Les Mis – does that compare?

        • I’d say it’s about the same length as Les Mis, from what I can remember. A lot of people actually draw comparisons between the two books because both of them deal with Napoleon and the way that people imagine and write history. I found myself thinking about Hugo quite a lot while I was reading War and Peace.

          I like your fix of turning the book into volumes – smart and necessary, with a book this length! :)

  2. Splendiferous stuff — another guilt-trip for me for having studiously avoided this for so long! Shame we know the result of the main match: a draw at full time but the Russian win with the penalty shoot-out. But it’s all about the spectators, isn’t it?

  3. If you find yourself in Russia, period, GET OUT. Napoleon, famine, Great War, Bolshevik revolt, Lenin’s imposed famines, Stalin’s executions, WW2…that place is sadface-city.

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