Friday, January 29, 2010

Anna Karenina

Although I enjoyed the first third of this book, I wound up very disappointed. Considering his opening line:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
maybe Tolstoy should have titled the book "Unhappy Families", then he wouldn't have set me up to expect Anna to have something to do with the novel. Instead, she seemed to appear whenever Tolstoy realized he'd forgotten about her.

Tolstoy spent more time developing the character Konstantin Levin, who comes across as a Mary Sue type character, used to discourse on Tolstoy's personal views about politics and religion. At one point in the story, Vronsky serves the same purpose for a discussion on art.

The book itself contains very little conflict. Every fight is resolved without the reader witnessing how it came about, even if the scene played out in the moment. In the middle of a tense scene, he'd skew sideways and philosophize about religion or socialism, neither of which advanced the story.

And I'm still trying to figure out how someone smiles ironically because his characters did it almost every time they spoke to someone. Good thing he told me, because I missed all the irony.

7 comments:

CKHB said...

Dang. AK is on my "fill in the gaps" list, and this is not encouraging to get me started...

M. said...

The titular character in a novel doesn't have to be the main character. Anna's name could have been used as the title of the novel simply because Tolstoy felt she embodied a theme or idea that was central to the text.

Tanguera said...

Could be that Tolstoy felt Anna embodied a theme. From the opening line, it seems that the book is about how different our unhappiness is from the next person.

In the few moments he allows the reader to get close enough to his character to see that, it comes through, but his writing style distanced me from the conflict and therefore from the unhappiness (or happiness for that matter).

moonrat said...

So I read this for Gaps this summer. I liked it, but it didn't change my life. I gotta admit, I found Levin a real downer--always having suicidal intellectual conflicts over the nature of morality and the role of the peasants. I mean, one such crisis would be fine, but then he'd have an epiphany, then another crisis... Blech.

However, I found the Anna line quite compelling (her half the story).

If you'd like to see Anna be the central character, I read a modern retelling a couple years ago called WHAT HAPPENED TO ANNA K, by Irena Reyn. I enjoyed it, and keep thinking about it.

Corra McFeydon said...

Yikes! This one is on my 100 list.

I'm glad for the warning, though. I'd have gone into it expecting Anna to be the central figure too...

Corra

from the desk of a writer

Tanguera said...

moonrat, that sounds like an interesting book. I have to admit I kept asking the what if this book concentrated only on her story, so I'll have to look for that book.

Laura Elliott said...

I had long commutes to work. Wanted to boost my literature intake and up my awake factor [worked the night shift at a newspaper--note not the graveyard.] Anyhoo Anna K was one of the stories I listened to going to and from work. This was years ago, but the only part of the book that really resonated for me was Anna's story. And it didn't really up my awake factor. Tale of Two Cities did that. So...years later I'm still left wanting a little more from this story. You bring back that feeling in your review. I'm not a real fan of books on tape, so I just sort of thought that might have had something to do with my interpretation of the story.