my 2014 giant: reading anna karenina

This book is not for the faint-hearted or casual reader, as my poor teddy, Beast, discovered when I performed open heart surgery on him to remove his two hearts for the photo (so no one is worried, he is making  healthy and happy full recovery).

Since reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo last year, I made it my mission to read one giant each year, and man, was this a giant. If you can’t read two books at once or stick to one story for months at a time, I’d suggest maybe this one isn’t for you. Starting in January, it took me a whopping six months to get through.

Having said that, slipping this monster back onto the bookshelf after its company for months was an amazingly satisfying feeling and if you think you can do it, give it a crack. The worst that’s going to happen is you won’t make it through first go, which considering the size isn’t really that devastating.

Anna Karenina is considered one of the two great adultery novels of the nineteenth century, the other being Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The themes of marriage and relationships are definitely heavy in the novel, so if nineteenth century marriage values and culture don’t interest you, again this may not be for you. I will be honest, it nearly lost me a few times with heavy, essay-like chapters but managed to get it together again by the next chapter.

There are many plots running parallel and a fair few characters to keep track of which got a bit overwhelming. Everyone is connected and there are relationships going everywhere. I will be honest, there was one plot line and a few characters that I think I could have done without, and the book wasn’t nearly as much about Anna Karenina as you would expect from the title. But for the purposes of the concept and political motivations, I can see the reasoning.

Also, I’m not sure if it is a traditional thing in Russian literature, but everyone was referred to by full name or last name every time which gave the entire novel a bit of a stiff and formal feel.

My biggest problem with following the characters was the use of multiple names for each character, one character being referred to with multiple titles and names. To get around this, as silly as it may feel, the best option is probably to mind map it out and write down the multiple names (and maybe make a chart of their connections while you’re at it) so it’s easier to follow along, especially if it’s something you intend on picking up and putting down, or reading along with another book.

Lastly, I just want to slip in a little point about my photo. Every photo is taken by one of my fantastic housemates (who probably won’t even see this nice little shout out). Not only do they deal with a model who is more difficult that a constipated toddler that won’t smile, they do exactly what I want and don’t complain about my strange lack of facial control. So for that this is just a little thank you to them both.

This was my first Russian author and after this, I think I would try another, but definitely will be doing a smaller book next time. If you have the commitment or interest, I would say give it a shot. If not, I’ve heard Keira Knightley and Jude Law are pretty alright in the new film adaptation.

From the friend who is going to start reading one book at a time,

The Cat


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