Amy and Iris. I've read Anna Karenina before and absolutely loved it, so I went into this one with high expectations. My major concern before starting was my complete ignorance regarding the Napoleonic wars; whether I would be able to understand and appreciate the historical events or whether they would just become dry pages of text for me to skip through rather than enjoy fully.
Well the good news is that we aren't on the war yet, so that's an issue for another day! Plus, I'm taking a world history module at Coursera which is filling in some of my gaps. This month we read Volume One, Part One, in which we are mainly introduced to all of the characters. And there's lots of them - the character list refers to four principal families and there are many subsidiaries that are all linked to each other in increasingly complex ways that only Tolstoy (and possibly Vikram Seth) could pull off.
From now on there are spoilers:
The main event in this part of the book is the death of Count Bezukhov and the squabbling over who will inherit his fortune, his illegitimate and awkward son Pierre or Prince Vassily. It's in the context of this sub-plot that we meet Anna Mikhaylovna, a woman so desperate and money-grabbing that she's willing to exploit the death as a chance to support her own interests, through Pierre. She can't enter a scene without plotting to advantage herself or her unwilling son in some way and although I suspect we are supposed to find her repulsive, she's really brightened up this part of the book for me. In a way she reminds me of Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind; you may not like her, but you've got to admire her guts!
I also enjoyed the sections about the Rostov's and their young family. Natasha seems like a lively spirit and as the back cover of my edition informs me she is destined to be a main character, I'm pleased that I like her. The young cousins of the family are all falling in love and Tolstoy does a great job of portraying the intensity of being a teenager, how everything is crucial and either the best thing in the world, or the end of the world. At one point Nikolai smiles at someone else and Sonya feels 'the knife of jealousy'. I remember crushes being like that and I was surprised to find it in a book many people would think of as stuffy.
I'm finding Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, a man completely disillusioned with society to the extent that he's eager to go to war just to get away, to be an interesting character. ("Drawing rooms, gossip, balls, vanity, triviality - that is the vicious circle I can't get out of"). I want to see more of Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimov, who cares nothing for etiquette or the 'correct' behaviour in society. I suspect that Prince Bolkonsky senior is actually a bit of a softy underneath his harsh treatment of Marya, his daughter.
On the whole, I'm really enjoying War and Peace so far. The translation is lively and engaging and I didn't want to stop reading once I finished the assigned section for the month, I think I might have trouble sticking to the slow pace. My only issues are that I'm still not clear on the inter-relations of all the characters (but I'm hoping that will come with time) and that the fact that the characters sometimes have French, formal Russian and informal Russian names can be confusing. I'm constantly referring to the Principle Characters list at the start of the book. I thought the French conversations would irritate me but surprisingly I'm perfectly fine with them.
On with Volume One, Part Two. I hope everyone is enjoying it as much as I am.