This review can’t do this book justice. The book is too big. Too many topics are covered. But as you most likely already know, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a Russian classic centred around the invasion of Napoleon into Russia in 1812.
The title of this book is actually quite literal. With us following characters both in the warzone and on the front lines of this battle, as well as back home in the estates and the cities. The two parts were often quite separate, and overall we (give me a mo) preferred the peace sections over the war sections, pretty much every time.
The “we” is because I buddy read this with the wonderful Olivia-Savannah from Olivia’s Catastrophe through most of 2021. We started out reading one chapter each day on the 1st January, and thanks to us switching it up and reading two chapters on weekends we finished the book on the 28th September rather than the 31st December!
Reading this along with Olivia had a large role in my enjoyment of it. It adored discussing the book with her every day, with it often being the highlight of the day!
Now onto the actual book. There was some fantastic character development through this tome, with us following some from childhood into adulthood and some from adulthood into old age. Tolstoy managed to make these characters progressions feel real, it wasn’t idealised, nor was it over exaggerated. Instead it felt like a realistic evolution based on each individuals circumstances.
My two favourite characters were Pierre and Nat, pretty much from the start! I did also love Boris at the start, but liked him less as the book went on. And I didn’t like Andrew at the start, but definitely liked him more as the book progressed.
In fact me and Olivia frequently mentioned that with the peace chapters they often felt a bit like a British soap opera, like Coronation Street or EastEnders, in how dramatic the individual plotlines were! It was so entertaining!
However, the plot wasn’t as strong for me as the characters and there reactions were. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty going on. These characters lives were set around the very real events of 1812, which was in the recent past for Tolstoy as he wrote this in 1869, and lots of details in regards to the war and the response from those “back home” were included. It wasn’t as in depth as the characters though, and it didn’t feel as well rounded. I think Tolstoy may have been relying on a level of intimacy with the events that the Russians he was writing for would have, and that your modern day Western reader doesn’t posses. So I wont fault him for this, but it is something to be aware of going in.
On CAWPIILE I rated this book: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 6, Writing: 7, Plot: 5, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 5. An overall score of 6.86 being a 3 star read.
For me the war chapters brought this book down from a possible 4 star rating. But the nail in the coffin was the epilogue. The epilogue (at least in the Maude translation) is split into two. One part looks ahead to the characters futures, the second is a philosophical discussion. To quickly and succinctly tackle part one? It ruined a lot of the character development for me. The development we saw through the whole tome isn’t present here with the characters reverting to previous iterations of themselves or evolving into something utterly unrealistic. I personally have just “forgotten” about this ending and leave it where it was at the end of the main text.
Now onto epilogue two. This is basically the entire reason Tolstoy wrote this book. He originally wrote an essay on his thoughts on Napoleon and the war, but no one wanted to publish it. So in order to get his thoughts out he instead wrote this entire massive book. That’s also part of why I didn’t like the war sections, they were often filled with the same thing as this second epilogue: philosophical discussions on the war from Tolstoy’s point of view. What he thinks of Napoleon (he really doesn’t like him and boy does he make that clear) as well as the Russian’s tactics and how they won the war. He just goes on and on, repeating the same point with different words about the philosophy of history. And these chapters (because of course the epilogue is more that a chapter long each) feel like Tolstoy is beating you over the head with a philosophical hammer. It absolutely ruins the rest of the book.
I understand many people are completionists. I am too. But if you can bare to not read the epilogue, or to just skim read it, I really recommend doing that. You’ll have a much more positive view of the book overall!
I’m still very glad I read this classic though. There are so many interesting discussion to be had, I adored the chats that me and Olivia had each day, and it’s a chunky classic that’s off of my shelves! I really do think that it’s a good book and for the experience it was worth the long read. Just beware the epilogues!