A little fanfare please...I've finished Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina! I feel like there should be fireworks or something as I've been working on this book for ages. I was sure I could fly through those last two hundred pages and would finish last Saturday, but no, and not even by the end of the weekend. Monday was out because of work, so I was determined to finish Tuesday night even if I had to stay up all night, which of course didn't happen. Instead, on my first day of vacation yesterday I got up early and read all through the morning, and then felt thoroughly overwhelmed by it all and then a huge sense of satisfaction for finishing what some say is the greatest novel ever written (though how many other books is that said about?).
Even though this is much shorter than War and Peace I feel like it took much longer to read. Anna Karenina is such a dense story--so filled with ideas on art, culture, society, politics and religion and many philosphical musings on human nature that I feel like my reading only barely scratched the surface. It definitely requires more than one reading, or a much closer reading than I gave it. It's really an amazing book, but I have to say I feel somewhat conflicted about it. Of course this is only a first impression and I need to mull things over and perhaps read a little criticism to work out how I feel beyond this first (no doubt faulty) impression.
The thing is, this isn't just Anna's story. As a matter of fact she really only plays a small (albeit very important) role. It seems as though Levin is the real star of the show. And perhaps at the root of my uncertain (and unhappy? feelings) is the fact that Anna finds no redemption--only a tragic ending, and one that she regretted the moment it happened and when it was too late, yet Levin finds meaning and contentment. Both characters were tormented and it was sometimes painful to listen to their thoughts and feelings of unhappiness. I realize that for Anna the choices she made were unacceptable to society. It's rather hypocritical as more than one character in this book was unfaithful, but the fact that Anna flaunted her unfaithfulness, and more her happiness in her love affair, made her such a wanton and immoral creature. So she pays the ultimate price and others go on their merry way. My first thought is that I feel slightly cheated. I'm happy for Levin as his struggles were almost harrowing, but well, there it is. I need to think about it all more and reconcile my feelings.
What I loved about this book were the descriptions. This was truly a panorama of nineteenth century Russian life. Much of it was quite vivid and very colorful. I read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and while it did feel like it was a translation of a foreign work, it was very easy to read. It felt like I was reading a Russian work rather than an anglicized (or very clunky) one. I don't always like watching movies after reading a particularly good book, but in this case I want to see the clothes and the carriages and sleighs and the houses and the Russian landscape, which I bet translates beautifully into film. As Anna Karenina is a long book it's a story that I don't expect it to be told fully in a film version, so I have no great expectations in that matter. So far I have the Masterpiece Theater adaptation lined up and hope to see the version with Sophie Marceau as well.
Sorry, this isn't a proper post on the book (I hope to write something better later), only my initial impressions upon finishing, which I suspect will change with time. This is a book that wold be impossible to write about in only a few paragraphs, but I was so excited about finishing I had to mention it while I'm on my 'reading high'! Another contented sigh, but one entirely different than yesterday's!