Examining one of the longest novels in existence, Daniel Forde explains why War and Peace is worth a read.
I feel there are numerous reasons why War and Peace would be an unlikely choice for a favourite book. First of all, it’s well over a thousand pages long making it a daunting task for the most accomplished reader. Furthermore, it’s a novel about life in early 19th century Tsarist Russia, a period most readers would know little about. One more reason against it is that it’s a very dense novel, conceptually speaking. To those who have read it: I’m sure we can all agree that we wouldn’t miss those very last chapters. You know the ones.
“The prose is perfectly comprehensible and the voice of the author is comfortably modern.”
In spite of all this, it is my favourite novel and I have never regretted picking it up. Despite its reputation, War and Peace is actually a very readable novel. The prose is perfectly comprehensible and the voice of the author is comfortably modern. Upon first reading, I was struck by how different this book felt from other classics. Tolstoy always manages to describe the action with the perfect amount of detail. No matter where the story goes, you feel as if everything is happening right in front of you, whether it’s a high society ball, a battlefield, or the birth of a child. It’s this clarity which allows another of Tolstoy’s strengths to shine: his characters. The novel hosts a large ensemble of characters, but Tolstoy succeeds in making them all unique. You’ll find historical characters mixed with fictional beings and you can empathise with them all.
“Upon first reading, I was struck by how different this book felt from other classics.”
Tolstoy’s rendering of internal thoughts gives you a perfect look into the inner workings of many radically different people. I spent a lot of time reading about the lives of Pierre Bezhukov and Natasha Rostova and upon finishing the book, they felt as close to me as real friends. This was because they grappled with subjects that we still struggle with today: love, maturity, and the meaning of life, among others. It’s that quality which makes this novel perfect to me. I admit it’s long and challenging in parts, but beneath those flaws is a book that is enchanting and brimming with many ideas on life.
Even though I’ve already read War and Peace twice before, I can’t wait to pick it up again.