89. ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy

I’m not reading this again – I have done so at least twice… although, if it doesn’t get snapped up, I may well keep it in reserve for re-reading during the compulsory fortnight of hotel quarantine I am facing when I do finally get back to Australia! This edition was published in 1977, the same year the BBC did an adaptation for TV, (their 1972 dramatisation of ‘War and Peace’ is also well worth looking for), and it was bought and read by Mum that year, (although she did not get around to reading ‘War and Peace’ until after she had retired!

Having said I’m not reading it again, I did glance at the foreword by Donald Wilson before starting to write this – and it is a good and thought provoking one, in which he asks the question, ‘Why does one read a novel?’ He discusses the very common answer you will receive if you ask that question – ‘Because they take you out of yourself’ – and poses a question of his own – but why would you want to enter a world as tragic and blighted as that of Anna Karenina? and certainly, why would you do so more than once, when you already know what is going to happen?

He concludes, and I agree, that it is in fact the authors mind and creative spirit that we enter, and which we either reject, accept with reservations, or take to heart completely. I would add that this is why, once we find an author we like, we seek out more of their work; and why some writers become virtually immortal, frequently re-published and read long after their deaths, and in many instances, their books are often ones we go back and read again even when we know exactly what’s going to happen. I would certainly add Tolstoy to this category, along with Austen, Dickens and Shakespeare, du Maurier – more recently, le Carre, Sebastian Faulks and Donna Tartt – I have a substantial list personally of authors whose work always jumps off a shelf at me and shouts, read me!

But, to ‘Anna’. ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. That’s the opening line, and indeed, families and their infinite variety of dysfunctions are at the very heart of this book, which starts with an unfaithful husband, but in the end, is the tale of an unfaithful wife. It’s also a delightful discovery that nothing really changes – people are, after all, still people, still doing the same stuff, still worrying about the same things, still just getting up and doing their best, whether in pre-revolutionary Russia or in the here and now. And that is one of the main reasons I love Tolstoy – his people are truly alive and real and relevant.

I shan’t go into the storyline. Most of you will already know it – but if you haven’t read this, and are not daunted by the prospect of just under 800 pages of a ‘wordy’ Russian tragedy, then I thoroughly recommend you do. Even if you have seen the movie. The book, my friends, is better by far!

As always, please get in touch if you’d like this copy – I’d be delighted to gift it forward with love from Mum and I. Or just let me know, what did YOU think of it??!!