Anna Karenina

So, i’ve spent quite a lot of time recently reading and reviewing advanced reading copies from NetGalley which has been a fantastic experience. I openly admit that i’m not much of a writer, but I hope by continuing to read and review books and updating this blog that my writing skills might improve a little.  Sometimes I write a review and re-read it a few days later and find myself cringing at the way it reads so here’s hoping I will feel this less and less as time goes on.

One of the reasons I decided to write this blog was to start to tackle the many (so many…) unread books currently weighing down my bookshelves. This has inspired the very name of this blog (Tsundoku is explained in more detail here). I have this rather weird habit of buying an interesting book and then not reading it because….why?  I struggle to answer this question to be honest. I know the book will be good, I know I will probably love it, it’s almost as if reading it will break some kind of spell. I want to delay the reading of the book so that it won’t be over? How something can be over if I never even start it? This is a contradiction I know. I also have a weakness for beautiful editions of hardback books or vintage hardbacks which can be an issue when it comes to portability. I read a lot on the go and like to have multiple books on my reading list concurrently, so my Kindle inevitably takes precedence when out and about. Excuses, excuses…

So, this is really a long-winded way of saying that it’s time to make a start on reading some of these forgotten treasures. I decided to start with a book that has been on my “To Read” list for literally years – Anna Karenina.

I have seen a least three film and television versions of Anna Karenina, so the story is familiar to me. I haven’t read any Tolstoy before, but I tend to love books set in Russia and those set in a mythical interpretation of Russia e.g. Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. I’m also interested in Russian History and Folklore so all that considered, this should be a good read.

At this point I’m approximately a quarter of the way through. I did find it slightly ominous that around page 250 (out of approximately 900…) Vronsky’s horse race occurred. Recalling the screen adaptations, I seem to recall this was something that happened further towards the end so i’m not quite sure how the next 650 pages will play out. I’m more than slightly concerned that it will be filled with Levin’s ruminations on farming and muzhiks. I die a little inside every time I realise it’s going to be another series of Levin chapters as he is such a miserable, unlikeable git. It reminds me of the same feeling I had reading the Game of Thrones series when it was time for a Daenerys chapter.

Thus far I’m finding most of the characters to be completely unsympathetic, particularly Levin and Vronsky. I sometimes find my eyes rolling when someone says they don’t like a book because the characters are unlikeable, especially when their unlikeability is a deliberate decision on the part of the author. I’ve noticed this expressed in regards to Wuthering Heights for example. People seem to completely miss the point that Heathcliff and Cathy are not supposed to be likeable. Their passion for one another is unhealthy, destructive and twisted, that said, they are interesting and compelling characters. Thus far I am not finding Vronsky and Anna to be comparable. I don’t feel like I am really getting a feel for who Anna is. She seems to be a manipulated doll, so far, the events are happening to her rather than her driving them and she seems altogether rather passive. I read somewhere that Tolstoy fell in love with Anna while he was writing her. At this point I’m not quite sure why.

“The King Must Die” by Mary Renault

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Perhaps my first mistake in reading this book was not knowing in advance that it was written with the fantastical elements removed. I think Theseus had made it to Crete before I was thinking “…..what’s all this bull dancing about? Where’s the Minotaur?”

The first part of the novel until Theseus makes it to Athens was pretty dull. He manages to end up shacked up with an “Earthling” queen (by the end of the book I still hadn’t worked out what an Earthling is – is it the same as a Minyan? Someone help) whom he treats abominably, and then proceeds to run about with his new posse until he decides to finally get off his backside and go meet his father in Athens.

We have a briefly interesting respite with the appearance of Medea (she doesn’t disappear in a chariot pulled by dragons though, booooo) before Theseus is volunteering himself to go off to Crete.

The whole bull dancing thing was a total snoozefest but things picked up somewhat towards the climax and the finale on Naxos is suitably bonkers.

It’s clearly a well written book but I struggled with the general misogyny and awfulness of Theseus as a main character. He is deeply unhappy with women even having the smallest amount of agency and the book hammers home ‘women having power = bad’ just too much to enjoy. Ariadne was mildly interesting but grounding the narrative in more historical fact just didn’t work for me. Some of the language was beautiful, but impenetrable, and I found myself reading some parts thinking “bwuh?”

This book took me over a month to slog through and despite everything it left me thinking “hmmm, maybe I’ll read the sequel…”. I guess I’d say it was frustrating, often mind numbing yet strangely compelling. I managed to love it and hate it at the same time.