Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

War & Peace Read-along: Week One, Book One!

10% of War and Peace under my belt feels good.  The fact that it hasn’t been a completely horrific experience feels even better!  Hanna played a blinder when she put together the schedule – Book One gave me enough to read that I feel as though I’ve made a decent start but wasn’t so much that I felt as though I was scrambling to keep up and skim-reading just so that I could avoid having to write a post full of excuses today.  It helps that Tolstoy isn’t nearly as confusing as I expected him to be and the story is one that I am finding genuinely interesting.  Phew indeed.
1) What pre-existing ideas did you have about War & Peace?
That it would be confusing and difficult to read.  That I wouldn’t be able to keep track of enough of the characters to actually enjoy the story.  That it was too long and that I’d be bored to tears by filler and endless descriptions of military tactics and obscure events from Russian history that I would neither understand nor care about.  You know, all the best feelings for a book that you’re about to spend three months reading and talking about…
2) On that note, is it as bad as you’d expected? 😛
Ha – touché, Hanna.  But no, no it is not.  I expect that I’ll spend the next three months saying this but I am constantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying War and Peace.  Hanna’s right though – that isn’t the kind of thing you can actually admit to without sounding like a complete plonker.  I’m reading The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon alongside it and there have been evenings where I would have chosen to pick up War and Peace even if I hadn’t been trying to make sure I didn’t lag behind at such an early stage of the read-along.  It’s unsettling.
3) What strategies are you employing?
e.g. reading in short bursts, using your Kindle on your commute, taking notes about the characters…
I drive to and from work and my team’s going through a busy spell so I was a bit worried about finding the time to fit in the reading.  I’m reading on my Kindle so that I can always have it with me in case I find some time to read unexpectedly.  Is that a strategy when it’s something I do anyway?  Probably not.  I think the only change that I’ve made specifically is to set my Kindle so that it shows the amount of time it thinks it will take me to finish the chapter instead of the ‘location’ (because who even understands those anyway?).  It means that even if I know I only have 15 minutes to read, I can see that I can squeeze in a chapter.  Also, I’m planning on reading War and Peace from each Sunday until I’ve finished the reading for that week before reading whatever else I fancy until the next Sunday.
4) How are you getting along with your translation?
Given that it was a free Kindle edition, I’m quite impressed.  The phrasing isn’t awkward so it seems as though some care has been taken not to just translate the worlds but make the story work in English.  It reads smoothly.  I obviously can’t say for certain but it doesn’t feel as though too many liberties have been taken with the original text with too many Anglicised names and such so generally I’m happy.  It also has some handy footnotes where the characters make references to authors or other figures that were well-known at the time, which means that I can appreciate more of the book.  Some of the footnotes are also nudges to let me know when a main character is being introduced so I know to pay attention to them!  
My only real gripe (and I don’t know if it’s my edition or the original) is that there seem to be an awful lot of references to “the princess” or “the prince” when there are about five present at the time.
5) Most and least favourite characters?
There’s nobody yet that I’ve massively warmed to but I like Nicholas Rostov because he’s idealistic and he seems sweet.  Princess Mary Bolkonskaya seems like she’ll be a good character too and I desperately hope that she doesn’t end up married to the juvenile and generally charmless Anatole Kuragin. 
My least favourite is easily Prince Andrew.  He’s selfish and completely dismissive of his seemingly pleasant wife, Lise.  
6) How do you feel about the way women are treated in the book?
Tolstoy’s habit of introducing every female character with a note on their physical appearance is great.  How am I supposed to know whether a like a woman if I don’t know whether they’re beautiful or not?  There seem to be a couple of strong (relatively) women but generally speaking they seem to only be pretty figures to be stared at and/or married off according to their father’s whims and political/financial ambitions or meddling older women.  I imagine that Russia in the early 19th century wasn’t the most progressive of places for women but I’m still hoping that things will improve.  My edition reliably informs me that Natasha Rostov will be a main character so hopefully she’ll get to do more than get married and procreate *crosses fingers fervently*
If you’re reading along too, head HERE to link up your thoughts on Book One!  You can still sign up HERE if you’re persuaded by how painless our first week has been 🙂  See you next week!