I finally finished this book after a freaking month and a half. I can't believe it, it's the longest I've ever spent reading a leisure book. But! I am glad I read it.
This book reads a little like a 18th century soap, filled with drama about affairs and love interests and stealing people's boyfriends and whatnot. It's not my most favorite type of genre (I don't like stupid love books where people have nothing better to do than just whine about their love lives and create drama for themselves), but Tolstoy is a master of characters.
I swear, no matter how much I didn't like most of the characters, I still kept reading because Tolstoy managed to make them so very real and different
. A lot of authors have a problem where they aren't really able to make characters too much different from each other, except for the obvious story tropes they fall into. But here, Tolstoy manages to show us how humans react emotionally to different situations - all of them so very different in mindset and background and situation, but all showing this nature of humanity in interaction.
Okay, I'll stop with the flowery words. I sound like an English paper, really. (But I can see why an English class would want to read this!)
But anyways, he does this by skipping through each person's thoughts when writing a scene. Sometimes it's a little disconcerting because we start one paragraph in Levin's head, and then end up in Anna's, or something like that. But I really think it works, I really love this style of writing. We see how perceptions are so different depending on the perspective. What one character does and says for a specific motivation can be interpreted so differently by the others listening. (Example, Anna thinking that Kitty hates her for who she is, when Kitty just feels pity.)
My absolute favorite parts are when we tag along with the characters to different parties where three or more of these character we have slowly gotten to know interact. These moments are where you see the hidden motivations behind such simple words and sentences, and why characters react as they do. We have the third person omniscient view and we know everything - and it is absolutely delightful to see Tolstoy capitalize on this.
But Tolstoy ends up adding so much more to this book than just the romance. I might even dare to say that this book isn't a romance, despite that it would seem to revolve around Anna Karenina's affair. But that's not the case. Tolstoy adds major issues to this work, ranging from politics, to spiritual enlightenment, to dealing with death and in-laws, the education of women and civilians, of course divorce, and so much more. I think these additions are what elevates this book from just a mere romance to a classic.
But... at the same time, sometimes he would go on and on about a certain topic just to get it across, and I always struggled to get through those times. So good and bad.
One interesting thing is that Tolstoy manages to present both sides of the argument for whatever issues he's talking about - so the reader doesn't actually know exactly what the author believes. Some books are so heavy handed in their support for a touchy issue, but Tolstoy manages to weave it into his conversations naturally. It's quite lovely to read.
Let me also just say that I hated the characters. They were so stupid, so silly. But... then, you could empathize, almost feel for them. When Levin is pulls his heart out and offers it to Kitty, when Dolly struggles to stay afloat after making the hard decisions of staying for her children, or when Kitty goes on a soul-searching journey to find herself after a love gone bad. Or maybe even feel deep sorrow and pity for Anna and Vronsky's love gone so bitter. All of them made such stupid decisions, such stupid choices. But they were real, with their thoughtless passions and raging emotions. And for that, I love them.
The ending was a disaster, in my opinion. I don't mind that Anna died, there is really no other way that I could see the book ending. But to make the last part, the quasi-epilogue, all about Levin and his spiritual change... that is a cop out, in my opinion. It makes the book about him. About him and also about the author's own spiritual change, trying to show the reader what he is about. I am not a fan of that.
I could write a lot more, to be honest. About the characters, about nit-picky details, about my own thoughts of the issues he brought up, but it might take a book report that I'm really not willing to write.
I'm just glad I read this on my own time instead of in a high school class - I'm sure I would've just skimmed it and disregarded most of the book in those years.
Two and a half stars because it was okay. I didn't "like" the book in commonly used term where you liked the story and the characters and the setting and whatnot. Instead, I found myself appreciating the author for his writing ability and prowess with words. Although long, I do think this book is worth reading (at least some of it) just to get a grasp of how he manages to weave different characters into a conversation without losing anyone's personality.
Recommended only for those with time and those who want to read a classic. I don't think there are many books that are terribly similar that I've read.
For me, it was worth reading. Once.