2021 Book Reviews VIII: Anna Karenina

Published in Books - 2 mins to read

On the train back from Glasgow yesterday I finally managed to finish Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, widely regarded as one of the best novels of all time. The translation I had is particularly chunky at 978 pages long and as such is pretty comfortably the longest book I’ve ever read - I started it back in July, and must admit I’m proud I managed to finish it.

Considering both its length and the reputation of its author, the novel itself is surprisingly readable, with only a couple of passages that I felt like I was wading through, but perhaps others might be keener on 19th Russian agricultural theory than I am. The characters are wonderful and incredibly relatable, surprisingly so even though they are part of such a different time and place. As the soap operaesque tale unfolds, Tolstoy captures some seemingly universal emotions in a way that is compelling and sometimes disconcerting. I was particularly struck by the descriptions of jealousy felt by various characters throughout the book - as someone prone to jealousy myself, for Tolstoy to describe the inner workings of a jealous mind, one which is so detached from reason and reality that it’s usually most comfortable to try to ignore, was surprisingly reassuring.

It is indeed long, and I think it could be an equally great novel and be cut down to 500 pages. The characters and the story make it worth the effort though, if you’re so inclined, to be transported back to 19th century Russian high society for a tale of intrigue, scandal and redemption. 8/10, I am going to take another long break from Russian classics though.

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