Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

War & Peace Read-along: Week Three, Books Four and Five

This week was super fun!  I have still been ludicrously busy at work but rather than adding to my workload, this week’s chapters proved to be the perfect light relief.  Back to gossip, drama (oh, the drama!) and scandal!  Book Four was easily my favourite book so far.  Book Five suffered a little because I read a lot of it on Saturday after a night out with friends on Friday…it turns out that mumblings about freemasonry are not the perfect hangover cure.  Who knew?
When I’m not seriously questioning my life choices, however, I’m enjoying the story no end.  I continue to be surprised by its capacity to completely capture my attention and this week in particular I’ve done a lot of gaping at the pages and texting Hanna about all of the DRAMA.  
I finally admitted to myself this week is that I’m very unlikely to read anything else until this read-along is complete.  If I can’t get to anything else when the writing and plot were at their most engaging so far, I don’t think I’m going to make it to anything else when we’re back at the front.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  It says a lot about how much I’m enjoying it that it hasn’t sent me running for the hills clutching a box of fantasy.  If all I achieve between now and mid-April is finally reading War and Peace, I think I’m ok. We’ll see 🙂  I also have a few meetings coming up that are pretty far away and will involve a lot of train travel so you never know, my brain might get a rest at some point!
One other unusual side effect of this read-along also seems to be an influx of Tolstoy pretenders as followers on Twitter…anybody else attracting those?!
Anyway, prompt time!
1) Are you managing to keep all the characters straight in your head?
I totally agree with Hanna on this one – I have no problem at all with the female characters and the male characters that aren’t in the army but when we get to the front line and are hanging out with the soldiers, I get a bit confused.  I get there eventually but there are a few moments where I go…D-who-now?  (Incidentally, I feel terrible for Denisov – he had better not die in that grotty hospital!)
2) Have your tactics that we discussed in Week One changed since beginning this book?
Not at all, actually.  I’m still reading on my Kindle and I still have it set to show me the amount of time it’ll take me to read the next chapter.  I still haven’t got round to printing off a character list because I’m too scared of blundering into a big ol’ heap of spoilers.  I sort of started reading the Shmoop chapter summaries but that only lasted a few days because although I do think they’re helpful and they’re entertaining, the website itself is so concerned with advertising at me and getting me to sign up for emails or whatever that it’s slow on my laptop and badly formatted on my phone.  So I’m back to where I started and it’s working out ok.
3) Aww, poor Pierre. Do we feel sorry for him or is it his own fault for marrying for lust?
Oh, I definitely feel sorry for him.  I never thought the marriage would work out but I didn’t really want it to end with him duelling Dolokhov.  While we’re on the topic of Helene and Pierre’s marriage – did anybody else’s edition have the footnote about the original draft of War and Peace containing an incestuous relationship between Anatole and Helene?!  They were obviously written out for the version that was released but let’s all be grateful that it was in fact just Dolokhov that Pierre felt compelled to shoot badly at.  I also feel sorry for how bad at everything Pierre is too.  He’s trying to help his serfs, sure, but he’s a berk and I just can’t see anything ending well for him.  Although then again, he seems to be heralded as Tolstoy’s personal favourite so you never know.
4) Do you think Dolokhov will get his comeuppance – not only for sleeping with Helene, but for basically bankrupting Rostov?
Actually, I’ve really gone off Rostov over the past couple of books. I liked his childish enthusiasm in Book Three but in Book Four, I wanted to give him a slap.  For messing about Sonya and basically keeping her hanging because he might want to marry her but also he might never marry her.  So obviously she should just wait around and reject other proposals while he makes up his mind.  Then he goes off to gamble and loses a phenomenal amount of money that he doesn’t have RIGHT AFTER his father has a talk with him about the family having money troubles.  So Dolokhov’s an arse for taunting people and generally behaving badly but I place equal blame at Rostov’s door for the bankruptcy.  For some reason, I feel as though Dolokhov’s going to be one of those characters that keeps on being a prat but survives relatively unscathed.
5) Who knew the FREEMASONS were part of War & Peace!? How do you feel about this?
I didn’t have a CLUE!  I’m not over-joyed about it, I have to say.  The first couple of chapters of Book Five were…not the best.  I’m glad for Pierre that he has something else to be bad at but I do not care for the diversions into theology.  The “God’s folk” hanging out with Princess Mary were also not welcome additions.
6) Do you think Tolstoy dislikes women as much as he seems to, or is it a form of satire?
I think it’s a bit of both.  I think that the general sexism is probably all Tolstoy but maybe the more extreme examples are satirical?  In the back of my head, I seem to have this notion that the introduction in my edition said that he was devoted to his wife so I like to think that he wasn’t generally a woman hater but just a product of his time.  Although if he kills off another nice female character in a lacklustre way out of nowhere, I’ll re-think.  Not cool, Tolstoy.  Not cool at all.
See you all next week, read-alongers!