As I said in the original post, there is a lot to be gained by reading War and Peace slowly. So I thought I would explain a little bit about why I think that is.
A lot of novels are plot-driven – so the conversations and events that are recorded in the novel all contribute to the plot. Anything else is usually cut. So if the scene was the opening soiree and War and Peace was plot-driven, you wouldn’t need to know who everyone is at a party – you only need to know about the two or three main people.
Other novels are character-driven. The characters are going on an internal journey. That’s more the case with War and Peace, but even then, a character-driven book might only deal with one or two characters.
By contrast, I believe that War and Peace is life-driven.
What I mean is that its focus is on the everyday details of life – as if you were living through it.
Think about it – if you were at a party (as we all will be on 1 July), you don’t know who is going to play a significant part in your life or not. There might be an enthusiastic, vivacious person there that you’ll never see again, or a quiet person who says barely a word but goes on to become your best friend.
The only thing you can notice, from moment to moment, is – the details. The mannerisms. The conversations. The little happenings.
Our memories, in real life, are made up of thousands of these little details of moments in our life. They may not be very important, and you’d leave them out if you were making a movie of your life – but these little details and moments make up your life and memories. The older you get, the more of these memories you collect.
And that’s the magic of War and Peace. By focusing in on the small details of life, at first it appears that Tolstoy is a bit all over the shop, just writing about whatever comes into his mind. But, chapter by chapter, book by book, all these little details come together to form a vast picture of Russian life during the Napoleonic wars.
So, the benefit of reading this slowly is that the more time you revel in the little details and allow them to soak in, the more amazing will appear the final tapestry when you eventually close the book.
Maybe if you read it fast, you would grasp the whole plot better and keep track of the main characters – but life isn’t made up of “main characters” and “taut plotting”. It’s made up of details – infinite, tiny details. Welcome to the world of Leo Tolstoy.