“War is Peace” (George Orwell, 1984)

Of course, Orwell’s doublethink, whereby directly contradictory political messages obfuscate any sort of truth, looks completely ridiculous in this day and age…

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(Miss you, Carrie)

A slight departure this week Reader, as rather than two books linked by a theme, for this post its one book only. One novel which is the size of 4 novels and has tested my aversion to e-books to the extreme, as lugging it around town on my commute and various evenings out has seen my back reach a place that even the most experienced osteopath would baulk at.  Look at the size of this beast:

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It is of course, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1865-8) and for once a new year’s resolution fulfilled, as I decided 2017 was going to be the year. Such an epic stretches my limited reviewing capabilities so instead I present my War and Peace reading diary.  Thrills! Spills! Intrigue! Romance! Or none of the above and instead one bibliophile risking permanent musculo-skeletal disfigurement in the name of experiencing a cornerstone of classic literature – you decide! (Warning: this post is nearly as long as the Russian epic itself, my apologies Reader, I think Tolstoy is catching…)

Day 1

I planned to start reading War and Peace 6 days ago. One day I’ll be a disciplined person. Or possibly not.

There are 1444 pages in my Penguin edition (trans. Rosemary Edmonds, 1962-3, revised 1978). There’s a list of principal characters, which I thought was helpful until Wiki informed me that there are nearly 600 characters in this novel. The list names a full 26. What have I taken on?

As a further incentive to get this read I decide to reward completion with the BBC adaptation which everyone seemed to rate so highly:

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Or more specifically, I choose to reward myself with this (shameless objectification alert):

The foil blanket awaiting the end of this marathon….

The foil blanket awaiting the end of this marathon….

Day one and so far I’m finding Tolstoy enjoyably cynical (so long as I forget he was horrible to his wife IRL):

“Never, never marry my dear fellow. This is my advice to you – don’t marry until you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of doing, and until you cease to love the woman of your choice and see her plainly, as she really is; or else you will be making a cruel and irreparable mistake. Marry when you are old and good for nothing. Otherwise everything that is fine and noble in you will be thrown away.”

And also a rival to Austen in the bitchy social commentary stakes:

They wept because they were friends, and because they were warm hearted, and because they – friends from childhood – should have to think about anything so sordid as money, and because their youth was over…But the tears of both were sweet to them.”

Both good things.

Pages read: 65 (pathetic) Pages remaining: 1379

Day 2

It’s predictable and trite to moan about the patronymic system in Russian novels so I won’t mention the fact that I’m struggling with the fact that everyone has 27 names. Instead I’ll restrict myself to sharing my frustration that three – three! –  principal characters are called Nikolai and the narrator refers to ‘the princess’ when there’s more than one princess in the room.

These quibbles aside – I’m hooked. War and Peace is completely brilliant.

Total pages read: 204 (better) Pages remaining: 1240

Days 3 – 5

War and Peace should come with a health warning: will induce antisocial behaviour. I’m really annoyed that social engagements arranged BWP (Before War and Peace) are taking me away from my reading time. I look up at the end of my commute disappointed that no-one around me looks even vaguely Cossack-like and apparently we’re no longer at war with Napoleon.

The peace sections are full of astute observations about socially mannered manipulations:

 “Weierother met all objections with a firm and contemptuous smile that was evidently prepared beforehand against any piece of criticism, whatever it might be.”

We’re also getting more into the psychology of soldiering and war, which is bleak and depressing, such as Andrei’s attitude to his loved ones:

“ ‘All the same, the only thing I love and prize is triumph over all of them. I care for nothing but this mysterious power and glory which I seem to feel in the haze that hangs above my head’ ”

Tolstoy is astonishing. Maybe no-one mentions his wit because his psychological insights are so devastating.

Total pages read: 404 (rubbish – stupid social life) Pages remaining: 1040

Day 6 – 7

Is it wrong that manipulative, destructive, serial seducer Dolokhov is my favourite character? (Answer: yes.) I know I should prefer sweet Pierre: “Moscow gave him the sensation of peace and warmth that one has in an old and dirty dressing gown”

or noble Andrei “the chief reason for his wanting to weep was a sudden acute sense of the terrible contrast between something infinitely great and illimitable existing within him and the narrow material something which he, even she, was.”

But who are they to this one-man dirty bomb blasting his way through the drawing rooms of Moscow? I wonder who plays him in the BBC adaptation?

I doff my hat to you, BBC casting director.

I doff my hat to you, BBC casting director.

Bitchy social commentary of the day: “He believed that just as a duck is so created that it must live in water, so he was created by God for the purpose of spending thirty thousand roubles a year and occupying the highest pinnacle of society. He was so firmly grounded in this opinion that others, looking at him, were persuaded of it too, and refused him neither the exalted position in society nor the money, which he borrowed right and left with no notion of ever repaying it.”

Total pages read: 702 Pages remaining: 742 (managed to catch up to my goal of 100 pages a day). Nearly halfway!

Day 8

War! What is it good for?

“The forces of Western Europe crossed the frontiers of Russia, and war began: in other words, an event took place to counter all the laws of human reason and human nature. Millions of men perpetuated against one another such innumerable crimes, deceptions, treacheries, robberies, forgeries, issues of false monies, depredations, incendiarisms and murders as the annals of all the courts of justice in the world could not muster in the course of whole centuries, but which those who committed them did not at the time regards as crimes.”

Absolutely nothing. Say it again, y’all.

Total pages read: 864 Pages remaining: 580

Day 9

The serious tone continues, with the bitchy social commentary sadly no more, but it does sharpen the focus on the horrors of war and the psychological fallout on the characters.

 “behind the veil of smoke the sun still stood high, and in front… a turmoil still seethed in the smoke, and the thunder of canon and musketry, far from slackening, grew louder and more desperate, like a man who puts all his remaining strength into one final cry”

A man sat next to me on my commute today sporting an enormous white beard and a Cossack hat. He has no idea how happy he made me.

Total pages read: 1006 Pages remaining: 438

Day 10 -11

The final stretch! I can’t say too much about what I’m reading for fear of spoilers.

Instead I’ll just say that I’ll be sorry to see it go, and frankly, I wonder if Tolstoy could have made it a bit longer.

Although I do think most editors today would try and dissuade authors from ending a 1400+ page novel with an abandonment of all narrative for a 40 page philosophical discussion on the nature of power and freewill…

Total pages read: 1444 Pages remaining: none!

So that’s me done, and I can’t quite believe it. There will be no stopping me now from reading other epics which have lain languishing in my TBR. Next: Ulysses! Infinite Jest! The Count of Monte Cristo! A different translation of War and Peace! I think I need a little lie down…

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42 thoughts on ““War is Peace” (George Orwell, 1984)

  1. Hooray! I loved your diary updates of W&P – what a great idea! Before reading it, it was hard to believe it could live up to the hype, but it absolutely does, and once read into being those characters have never left me. Having read your post, I can’t wait to spend another anti-social fortnight exclusively in their company all over again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A most enjoyable post, madame bibi – and congrats on making it to the end. I would love to read this novel one day (or one month), it’s just a question of finding the right time. Out of interest, do you have any thoughts about the translation? I recall looking into the different versions at one point…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jacqui. Wiki mention a comparison of translations done in 2000, which rated the Ann Dunnigan translation highly, but as this was into American English, I may have found that a bit distracting. The Penguin one I read was rated as scholarly but unimaginative. I think the 2010 OUP might be the best option, but unfortunately I only saw this after I was well into the Penguin!

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  3. You. Are. Amazing.
    W&P was/is also my new year’s res. Except that I’ve already seen the BBC production. And I decided to read it on the Serial Reader app and soon realised that the translation they use is RUBBISH and that my hard copy is much better (I have the Pevear and Volokhonsky 2007 translation) {was actually quite interesting comparing the two…}
    And then I couldn’t find my book… Oh! There it is – husband using it as a door stop. Truly.
    I think I should abandon app and just get stuck in. You’ve inspired me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I think you’ll benefit from having seen the adaptation, in finding it easier to keep the characters straight in your head than I did.

      What a shame Serial Reader chose a rubbish translation as it’s such a good idea to get epics read.

      That’s hilarious about the doorstop 😀

      So glad to have inspired you! Happy reading, I look forward to hearing all about it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read War and Peace the summer in between high school and college. I was deeply into Russian novels. Now my son (a college senior majoring in Russian) is deeply into them, so we watched the BBC film together and talked about how the long philosophical parts are adapted (there’s a 2-minute scene of Andrei lying on a battlefield that evidently is meant to stand in for 30-40 pages of musing).
    Also, my son and I both read Infinite Jest when he was 17, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was wondering how they would adapt the philosophical parts! They’re pretty much untranslatable to screen, I would think.

      Good to hear that you enjoyed Infinite Jest – it may well be the next epic on my horizon…

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  5. Well done for making it through it! I enjoyed War and Peace when I read it in my late teens or early twenties (although I skipped a little bit the political and military strategising bits). But I suspect that’s because back then I had more time to read big chunksters of books. Nowadays, when I tried Infinite Jest, I felt: ‘Just get to the point, will you?’ (although I admit it was funny and good in small doses). I didn’t watch the BBC adaptation of War and Peace (but with such charismatic actors, maybe I should…).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think this is possibly the first ‘review’ of War & Peace that really makes me want to read it! I loved your diary-style post, and yes, those previously made social engagements really get it the way at times, don’t they?
    (Great idea to keep a short diary while reading long tomes – I will have to try to keep that in mind next time I read one.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! If you do read it I really hope you enjoy it.

      It’s a source of constant frustration to me that life conspires to make demands that take me away from reading!

      Keeping the diary was actually good fun, so I do recommend it & might do it again next time I take on an epic read 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Congratulations!! So glad you enjoyed it! But aaarghhh – you’ve reopened the emotional scars left from reading this a few years ago. Took me about two months, didn’t have a clue who anybody was for most of the time, and had forgotten the beginning by the time I got to the end. I’ve now also forgotten the end…

    The End

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! I’m so sorry – sit down with some chocolate & a novella and forget all about it!

      I did think when I was reading it that I had to keep the momentum going, that if I let it go in too long I’d forget the plot & people. I never poly-read anyway, but I was quite determined this time.

      Did you see the BBC adaptation? It’s supposed to be quite good & watching it with the aforementioned chocolate to hand may be a salve to your wounds?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I lolled at everyone having 27 names!
    I read this a couple of years ago, whereas my daughter hasn’t, and I found myself explaining quite a bit of the BBC adaptation as it felt more like a ‘greatest hits’ of the novel, which I really enjoyed but she often got a bit lost. And I agree wholeheartedly about the casting 😉 Although I was lukewarm to the first Cormoran Strike novel and only really enjoyed the last one, seeing as Tom Burke is starring, I’ll see my way to giving that adaptation a go as well 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely made me more confident about tackling the big beasts 🙂 I thought that life demands would mean I’d lose momentum with a big book, but now I feel if I just keep focus I’ll do it! This may well be the approach I take with Infinite Jest…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  10. I love this post and for the first time in years (after an abortive attempt too long ago to remember) I want to read this for myself now. Love the pictures, the complaints about the names and the quotes you’ve selected for wit and psychological insight. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My main struggle with War and Peace – aside from the names! – was knowing it was going to all end in tragedy. You can hear it coming from page one (living in the 21C and looking back helps) yet they all run so obligingly into destruction…. A great review, thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I enjoyed reading your diary style post.Can’t believe you got through it in such a short time – Well done you! It is one of those books, along with Infinite Jest, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, and Proust that really ought to be read, but I keep putting aside until later… you know when I’ve got the, oh so elusive, time. Currently reading a bit of a door stop – Bleak House – but having a daily page/chapter goal helps. You’ve definitely inspired me to put W and P higher up in the to read list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Proust! I forgot about him. Yes, at some point I really must read him – it may be one for retirement!

      Bleak House is definitely a doorstop, but very readable. I found having a page goal did help keep me on track, it’s so easy to lose momentum with the massive tomes…

      I hope you enjoy W&P if you get to it, I look forward to hearing how you find Bleak House 🙂

      Like

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