First of all, in this chapter, we see the return of Boris – he who no longer seems to hold much sway over Natasha’s heart (well, not as much as Pierre and the Italian singing teacher – but then again, as my wife always says – girls have a crush on all guys when they’re 12).
And Berg. I must admit – I had been keeping up okay with most of the characters in this novel, until Berg reappared and then it actually took me a few minutes to remember who he was. I may be the only stupid one among us here, but for anyone else who shares my level of forgetfulness, Berg was the young man we last met at the Rostovs, who was rumoured to be Vera’s “boyfriend” and had the memorable habit of only talking when the conversation was about himself. Flick back to Book 1 if you really, really can’t remember at all . . .
Not that Berg features too heavily, because Nikolai shows up, gets nostalgic reading his family’s letter, and then manages to get worked up into a state with Andrei.
Now, I’ve got to say a word here about duels – what is it with the 19th century mind and fighting duels? (Well, probably more of an 18th century thing, but still . . .) In case you missed it (it was a bit subtle), when Andrei showed up, he was unimpressed with Nikolai because he could tell right off the bat that he was completely just making up his war story as he went along.
Nikolai was ticked off with Andrei because a) he knew that he was being a bit of a faker and b) his own strongly-held notions that soldiers are the “real” army and adjutants and commander’s staff are all just nancy boys getting paid to do nothing.
So when Andrei didn’t look impressed, he was getting fired up at him and making comments about adjutants in the hope that Andrei would get all upset, and challenge him to a duel. Which Andrei wisely sidestepped, recognising that there would be enough bloodshed in the battle that was to come. (Oh, did we tell you that they’re still fighting the French and there’s going to be another battle soon? Sorry if you missed that . . . )
But how could a young man who was utterly petrified of getting shot by the French in the last battle suddenly want to fight a duel at close quarters? Who knows? I will never understand duels . . . but it’s not the last duel we’ll come across in this book . . . but more of that later.
The moment I enjoyed (apart from Andrei calmly defusing Nikolai) was the way that Nikolai both hated Andrei and wanted him for a friend. Have you ever known people like that? You hate their guts, but you’d give anything to have them as a friend . . . what a strange world . . . nothing much has changed in 200 years, really.