Daily Archives: 25 August 2009

The train has left the station

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenin (1873-1877, translated by Rosemary Edmonds 1957, 1978)

anna002 What with cleaning the house, travel, conference, broken computer and jet lag, this has taken me longer to read than it normally would have. It’s wonderful wonderful – funny, confronting, deeply instructive. At times I felt as if Tolstoy wrote the book to explain the society of his time to readers who wouldn’t be born for at least 70 years (the situation of women, the conditions of the peasants …). I knew in advance that this was a book about a woman who throws herself under a train, and expected it to have a bit of A Doll’s House about it. I didn’t expect it to have elements of P G Wodehouse twittiness at one extreme and almost Joycean internal monologue at another. And is there a bit of proto-Wittgenstein (‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent’ ) in Levin’s decision to renounce argument in the last chapter? And how about those similes! (Just in case you’re reading this and haven’t read the book: maybe half a dozen times, at intense moments in the narrative, a character’s mental state is explained through a simile, and each time it’s just brilliant.)

Why didn’t anyone tell me? I may have to set aside time for War and Peace sooner than I’d planned. (I’ve been told I should have read it first, because it’s not as grim. Oh well …)