According to Wikipedia, Tolstoy was “hesitant to label this work as a novel.” Upon reflection, this makes a lot of sense. The narrative through line in this MASSIVE tome is ambiguous at best; during several points, you are left wondering just exactly what the f*ck it is you are reading. Part history textbook, part Philosophy 101, part Chronicles of the Russian Rich and Famous, I can assure you that this “novel,” for lack of a better term, is equal parts manure. It would have been more appropriately named True Life: Rich White Russian Aristocrats We Give Zero F*cks about or perhaps something like, Ennui: a Russian Aristocrats’ Guide to Overcoming it. Let me be frank. I hated this book (you couldn’t tell already, right?). It is going on my top five list of worst, most unbearably awful pieces of dung I have ever had the misfortune to read.
This year, I tried, unsuccessfully, to read this monster of a novel. Twice. The third time I went into it with my teeth gritted and sheer stubbornness. I refused to let yet another Tolstoy novel threaten the completion of my reading challenge (why do I do this to myself every year? Selective amnesia? Bragging rights? [not worth it, BTW]). I had to chop it up into tiny segments of twenty five pages a day over several months to get through it. It’s like taking medicine–you just force it down. Half the time, I don’t know who is who or what they are doing. I hated the war. I hated the peace. I hated everything. Hate, hate, hate. So much hate in my heart for Tolstoy. Lest you think I am exaggerating and you have foolishly decided to continue in your undertaking of reading this bilge, here is the slightly less opinionated portion of my review. But be forewarned: don’t come crying to me when your mind is broken from the sheer pointlessness of the 1000+ pages and your arms hurt from holding the massive book up for the hours upon hours it takes you to finish this tripe.
Like all truly useless stories, this one begins at a fancy party for rich white people who sit around complaining about the horribleness of their lives as servants tie their shoes for them (seriously, what do you have to complain about!?). We are presented with a veritable “who’s who” of elite Russian society. This is important because for the next million hours of your life, you will need to remember every single one of these hundreds of attendees as we needlessly follow the threads of their stories. Also, not confusing at all (sarcasm) is the fact that they all have very difficult Russian names, plus 2 or 3 nicknames to boot, and all of them are Princes and Princesses (?). I digress. This is your cast of characters. All of this awesomeness is happening as France (Napoleon! Not the fun one [Dynamite] but the little mean one [Bonaparte]) is invading Russia. We will see chunks of the action (hence the titular “War”) and the ‘will they won’t they’ of marrying for love or money (the struggle is real, man) which I guess is the Peace part? Oh, some people die, some people do stupid things, everyone has excessive ennui and is struggling to find their purpose in the world.
I guess we are supposed to be focusing on the philosophical conundrum of maintaining morality in an increasingly immoral world. However, that gets completely lost in the cacophony of #whitepeopleproblems. I am probably going to English major jail for this review, but honestly; I cannot fathom why in the world people feel Tolstoy’s writing is in any way worthwhile. Please remind me the next time I start thinking, ‘hmmm, time for more Tolstoy?’ to run away. Screaming.