War and Peace, a review

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!

Do you read classics?

They can be pretty intimidating, and not that long ago I was someone who had read a few, mainly kids classics, and that was about it. But something huge came into my life that changed my mind.

Well that sounds like it was some big life event or something, it wasn’t! I literally mean something huge, War and Peace!! This chunker had sat on my tbr since 2015/16 and I finally decided I was going to be reading the damn thing! The wonderful Olivia from Olivia’s Catastrophe agreed to buddy read it with me and since January 1st 2021 we’ve been slowly making our way through this tomb of a book.

And we’re loving it! Now of course this is because we’re enjoying the book, but something which is really amping up my enjoyment factor is reading this with Olivia, not only because she is lovely (because she is) but because I’m adoring our discussions. We discuss how the book makes us feel, as well as literary merits and what we think of the portrayal of the time and the historical aspects. And that might sound boring to some, but we love it! And it came naturally too. At first we were just talking about the book in less academic terms, but as we went further through the book this just naturally became the discussion we would have and it is a genuine pleasure to message her every day!

It’s because of this specifically, the daily analysis of a well known classic with a friend who is educated in the field, that has changed my thoughts on classics as a whole. I enjoy them so much more now! I read a lot more into them and intrinsically find myself understanding so much more than I used to, as well as reading through them a lot easier. In the past the writing style used to often be a struggle for me.

I cannot recommend highly enough buddy reading a classic with a friend. Not only is it so much fun to read with a friend, and not only will you get so much more out of the book itself, but slowing it down to one chapter a day means that there is less material to read from and more insights to be gained from a smaller amount of text. And it has changed how I read! And I couldn’t be more glad.

War and Peace Mini Review – Book 2

We’ve finished another chapter!! This is up a wee bit late in comparison to when the events happened, but on the 10th February me and Olivia officially finished Book 2 of War and Peace! This was a shorter chapter than the last, only coming in at 70 pages compared to the previous books 85. But that 15 pages? Wow, it felt like it was so much shorter!! How odd!

So far me and Olivia are having pretty similar views on the book, in that we both didn’t enjoy this war focus chapter as much as we enjoyed the peace based one. Whilst the focus on individuals works when we’re learning about society politics during peace times, with it allowing the reader to see the nuances between different points of view and political strategies, during war it just lost me. Often the individual we’re following has no clue what is happening on a wider scale, different parties on the same side are bad at communicating with one another and being in the middle of a battle is just disorientating. Whilst all of these reasons are why I didn’t enjoy these chapters as much as the last book, I do have to say that they show, in my opinion, a really well grasped concept of war during these times. The reason I’m confused and don’t know what is going on is because the individual’s we’re following would have been and it seems to be an accurate representation of war. I did also like that when some big positive news is reported to those as the very top of command, with the rider believing he is of great import, it’s a bit of a reality check when he realises that on a grand scale their win at their battle means little to the campaign and that even when we do get to comprehend what is going on with the troops we’re following that doesn’t mean we understand anything about the larger battle taking place.

Continuing from that, what I did also find very interesting in this chapter was the soldier’s viewpoints on war throughout. Prior to being in any battles they all seem very eager to get into the fighting, wanting to prove themselves for the glory of Russia and believing it to be quite poetic. When they’re in the battle, however, for many of them that goes completely out of the window as the realities of war sink in. I also enjoyed how each character has a different point of view on war after their battle is over. Some seem to have genuinely enjoyed themselves, this is mostly the upperclassmen who were on horseback and commanding people around. Whereas those on the ground seem to fall into either re-glorifying war after the battle has ended in a manner which seems very much like a PTSD reaction, burying reality deep down in order to carry on, or they’re coming face to face with its realities and wishing that they were back home where they were safe and scared with how the war is going to continue.

From this book my favourite three characters were Rostov, Tushin, and Andrew. Andrew is Prince Andrew, one of those we met in book 1 who has moved to the battlefield. Whilst in Russian high society he seemed reserved, uncomfortable and like he just wants to sink into the background, here on the battlefield he seems vibrant and full of life. The world of commanding battles seems to do him good and he is strong, thoughtful and much happier with his life. Rostov is a general foot soldier we follow. To compare to the peaceful chapters, he’s the war chapters Pierre. We love him! We don’t know him as well as a person, because we’ve only seen him as a soldier, but he also seems like a good man, peaceful and caring, and one we’re looking forward to following in future chapters. Lastly there’s Tushin. Staff Captain Tushin leads a group of men within the Russian army (no I don’t know the proper term and no I’m not going to look it up. We were calling him Mr T in our messages just be glad I checked his name!). He seems to really care for his men and was solidly holding ground without any of the help that should’ve been provided to him. In fact he made the French believe the majority of the Russian forces were with him and his guns! (they were most certainly not).

Overall, on reflection I quite enjoyed this war book, but during the reading itself it wasn’t as enjoyable as the peace book that came before. Next up we’re returning to Moscow and to Pierre and I’m very excited! After the developments at the end of book 1 his life is going to be quite dramatically changed and I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles all of this!

War and Peace Mini Review – Book 1

This is the second time I’ve read this book, or at least for a good 75% of it. The first time I tried to read War and Peace it was a pretty big failure. I got to page 67 in my edition and couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again. Now doing this buddy read I can also learn that I remembered nothing from my first read through! I didn’t remember any of the events, thankfully that has really changed this time around! Part of this is because I’m reading it at a later point in life and have changed how I analyse my reads, and part of it is because I’m reading it chapter by chapter each day. But the biggest reason is because this is a buddy read. I’m reading this along with Olivia from Olivia’s Catastrophe and being able to message her after almost every chapter and discuss what is happening, our thoughts on what will happen next and our opinions on each character has really solidified the story in my head! It’s made it to be such an enjoyable experience so far and not only am I really excited to continue on with this for the coming months (and possibly the year) but also I now know how I’d like to get through those intimidating classics in the future! Chapter by chapter buddy reads all the way!

Within this first book we are introduced to the majority of the main characters. This book takes place away from the war itself and therefore I assume there will be some military individuals who we’ve not met yet. Mostly we’re in Moscow, although we do take a brief jaunt to the countryside in order to meet a father and sister. This isn’t a summary of the book so I won’t be going into detail, but there are a few points I definitely want to mention! Pierre is such a bean, he’s so lovely and so far into the story he’s my favourite character! He’s incredibly naïve about how Russian society functions but he’s doing his best, bless him, and he has good intentions with his actions (not including the bear, but we’ll let him off with that one). I’m so excited to follow him further into the story after the events at the end of this book change his life dramatically!

I love the friendship that we see between the two Anna’s. One is… well. She’s annoying (Anna D), but their close friendship is really sweet and Anna M is a caring individual. Anna D doesn’t have many funds, but does have a young son. So she’s doing all that she can to get him in a better place in life. So whilst it’s annoying and the secondhand embarrassment is real, it really does make you feel for her as a mother. Boris, the son in question, is quite embarrassed by his mothers antics, but seems to get along well with Pierre and he seems nice. If this was a modern novel I would probably be shipping them (and I still kinda am) but here I’m hoping for a good friendship to come between the two of them. Anna M cares deeply for her friend, and so far it looks as though she also cares for those around her. This is shown by her attentiveness to Anna D’s plight even at moments where you wouldn’t fault her for forgetting, and also for the assistance she provides Pierre. This might just be attempting to influence him, but at the same time it really does help him in a time when he would most likely make mistakes, and she does it in a subtle manner that doesn’t embarrass him.

Another group that is lovely to watch is the Rostova children. It’s so nice to see them acting “normal” and relaxed even in the presence of these adults who are doing their best to comply by strict social etiquette. They’re strongly in tune with their emotions which can wildly swing from weeping to great joy. It is a little jarring to hear them speaking of marriage and then to mention their age being, in one case, 12. It’s definitely a product of it’s time and something to be aware of. But despite that I’m excited to see them develop and all the romantic scenes that we’ve seen so far have been very cute and wholesome.

From the section titles for book two, it does look as though this is going to be much more focused on the war side of the story, with the focus switching back to society in Moscow for book three. Fingers crossed I enjoy the war portions of this epic as much as I’ve enjoyed this first book! But if not? Well at least I know I have more of Moscow society to come in the near future.

The plan for this read had originally been to read a chapter a day for the year. We’ve now started to read 2 chapters on Sunday and might be slipping in 2 chapters on another day too. I’m not sure how this will develop over the year, but it does mean that I’m confident we’ll finish this by the end of 2021 and I’m still very much excited to keep reading and discussing this with Olivia!!