Review: Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy

Read: 34
To Go: 66

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy

“Top 50 38 Romantic Lines” read: 12/38

Screen shot 2013-06-22 at 1.04.32 PM

Romantic quote: “He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.”

Finished reading: June 21, 2013

It took me five months to read (granted, I put it down for long periods of time in those five months, and really only read it when I was taking the train home to Barrie), but in mid-June I finally finished the tomb that is Anna Karenina. Never was there a person more proud than I was at that moment. But, I have to admit, other than making me proud to have completed it, Anna Karenina didn’t do much for me. Though I’m sure it’s sacrilegious to say, it was just okay. Solidly middle-of-the-pack, but no better than that.

In Anna Karenina, the unhappily married titular character embarks on a doomed affair with Count Alexei Vronsky, which leads to her alienation from Russian society and overwhelming unhappiness. In a parallel story, Konstantin Levin, a friend of Anna’s brother, returns to Russian society, convinced that he must ask his longtime friend, Kitty Scherbatsky, for her hand in marriage. When she says no, anticipating that she’ll be receiving another proposal that night—from none other than Count Vronsky—both Kitty and Levin experience all-consuming despair.

Anna Karenina is a story told in eight parts and roughly 800 pages, depending on the edition you pick up. I don’t know why it’s that long. A month after reading it, I still can’t comprehend why it took Tolstoy 800 pages and eight parts to tell a rather commonplace tale of an affair to remember. Especially when, for several parts at a time, the novel seemed to be in relative stasis. For at least three parts, Anna and Vronsky were pretending to be happy while snipping at each other in their private moments, and Anna was an indecisive jealous mess. But any reader with a pulse can comprehend the state of the union in just one part, so why waste time on the other two when nothing of note had changed?

Levin and Kitty’s parallel story, surprisingly, was the one I was more invested in, because it actually had momentum. Each part brought Levin and Kitty to a new place, both plot-wise and as characters, and then finally reconnected them. Unlike Anna and Vronsky, who were practically spinning their wheels in a mud-filled ditch, Levin and Kitty kept moving forward. Not to mention they were infinitely more likeable characters (even if Levin was a bit of a stick in the mud sometimes).

Anna Karenina (or, as I like to call it, Six Crazy Russians) was, to be quite frank, nothing special. It was long and tiresome with occasional moments of beautiful writing (like the romantic quote from the Stylist list). The plot was, to use a cliche, as slow as molasses to advance, and had far too many diversions into the minutiae of Russian life (including a particularly perplexing and not at all relevant election scene). But at least Kitty and Levin were there to make it bearable.

Next book: A Necessary End — Peter Robinson

– Kelsey

P.S.: I watched the movie adaptation of this—the newest one—and it was fantastic. Treating it like a stage performance was a little unusual, but it worked. Plus, the performances were brilliant, a lot of the time-wasting scenes were cut out, and the movie itself was visually stunning. Worth a watch!

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