Monday, January 28, 2013

Tolstoy, anyone?

Anyone seen the new Anna Karenina movie? Anyone reading the old Anna Karenina book before seeing the movie? Since I was a teenager the last time I read it, I thought I needed a refresher, so I suggested it to my Navy Spouses book club for our March book.  I started it a couple weeks ago, and am only about 200 pages in. At first I was caught up in the romance of Anna and Vronsky’s relationship. (Is it funny that both the men in Anna’s life are Alexey? Or is it just that common of a name?) Although Vronsky isn’t likable, Anna appears to be at the beginning. She’s so sensible with her sister-in-law Dolly, suffering from her husband’s betrayal. And she wisely runs away when she realizes she’s attracted Vronsky’s attention away from Kitty.  But just when Tolstoy has you feeling like one of the Petersburg biddies wondering how their relationship is going to be consummated, he cuts short your curiosity by telling you it is consummated, and Anna feels terrible about it. Do you think he cut out a big chunk of the romance when he was revising? Is it to prove how anti-climactic (double-entendre intended?) the actual deed is compared to what they’ve constructed in their imagination? It’s almost like he got tired of writing about their anticipation and wanted to skip to their misery.

Now I can’t decide if I want to read 700 pages about how disappointed in themselves they are. It is lovely to read passages like:
 “If Levin had felt happy before in the cattlepens and farmyard, he felt happier yet in the open country. Swaying rhythmically with the ambling paces of his good little cob, drinking in the warm yet fresh scent of the snow and the air, as he rode through his forest over the crumbling, wasted snow, still left in parts, and covered with dissolving tracks, he rejoiced over every tree, with the moss reviving on its bark and the buds swelling on its shoots.” 

or “Although her dress, her coiffure, and all the preparations for the ball had cost Kitty great trouble and consideration, at this moment she walked into the ballroom in her elaborate tulle dress over a pink slip as easily and simply as though all the rosettes and lace, all the minute details of her attire, had not cost her family a moment’s attention, as though she had been born in that tulle and lace, with her hair done up high on her head, and a rose and two leaves on the top of it.”

but I’m debating if I want to read about handwringing and psychological torment for six weeks. Betty pointed out the similarity with The Master of Hestviken in which Olaf commits his great sin in the first tenth of the book and spends the rest of the series avoiding going to confession. After the depressing episode of Downton Abbey, I might need a little levity in my life. Should I persevere? I’m going to be surprised if anyone in my book club gets much past the great fall. But they'll probably see the movie if it comes here. (Is Keira Knightly too slight to be Anna? I picture her more buxom.)