I am a member of a book club. And that means sometimes I am invited to read a book I'm a bit 'meh' on. Anna Karenina is such a book. This is the price I pay for good company and a few drinks.
I find that I struggle to read the classics if I know too much about the story. What can motivate someone to read over a thousand pages with no chance of surprises? Bragging rights, dependable storytelling, and the fact that the ebook was only $0.99.
Anna Karenina is exactly as advertised. Rich Russian lady commits adultery, this turns out to only make her happy in the short-term, and then she kills herself. The only surprise was how much of the book is not in fact centered on the plight of our beautiful and immoral protagonist. Konstantin Levin is the standard stand-in for the author in a Russian novel. Through the character of Levin the author criticizes the aristocracy and their loose way of living and the frivolity of their lives. He constantly opines on how much better it is to live a simple life of hard work and farming and the nobility of the peasants. At one point in the book Konstantin is considering marrying a peasant girl, but of course he doesn't. He marries an actual Princess, but teaches her how to live his simple life. It is hard not to think of the cultural revolution a few decades down the line that will find many of those peasants in even harder circumstances and the aristocrats scrambling to hold on to the last remnant of their wealth and society.
Books about infidelity, and especially infidelity committed by women, used to have to end in tragedy or they would be considered morally compromising for the public to read. And this book did not abandon that convention. Of course Anna is driven to commit a desperate act by the loss of her place in society and the waning love of her young lover. The message of the book is shouted for the last 100 pages. STAY IN A STABLE ALBEIT BORING MARRIAGE. PASSION WILL ONLY LEAD TO RUIN. AND HARVEST WHEAT INSTEAD OF GOING TO PARTIES. I love books in which a woman breaks with convention and pursues her desires. But I hate books where she is punished for it and we are tacitly told we will be punished too.
I will concede that the language is beautiful and if you're going to be bored and annoyed, be bored and annoyed while reading something by Leo Tolstoy. And I found myself so hungry for the balls and clothes and outings that I did something I don't ordinarily do...I watched a film adaptation. I recommend the 2012 film staring Keira Knightly. It is a bit garish and sometimes the staging is distracting but it made a nice companion piece to the book.