One-Year War and Peace E1.1 – Alexander and Historians

Reading for Monday, 1 June

Okay, now this is a bit of a tricky chapter, because Tolstoy is playing around with a few historical/philosophical ideas at the same time. Mainly it revolves around answering the critics who later thought Alexander I did a lousy job of leading the country.

I don’t think Tolstoy necessarily disagrees with their statement, but I think he’s merely saying that the forces that produce a man and his outlook (ie his upbringing, his philosophies, etc) are formed in such a way that sometimes you’ll like what they produce and then other times you will not like they produce.

So thus, how can we, as critics of history, really criticise people, because the same forces that produce the things we like, produce the things we don’t.

If they didn’t, Tolstoy is arguing, then we’d really just all conform to some mindless  mass and we really wouldn’t have any individuality at all.

At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

Maybe it will become clearer as I read on . . .

One-Year War and Peace 15.20 – Natasha’s Happiness

Reading for Sunday 31 May

And now we switch over to Natasha, who is also feeling the same thing. I found this chapter like a delicate piece of music, where two melodies are combining at once (that’s called counterpoint if you want a new word to show off at parties).

There’s a happy melody that is Natasha’s joy at falling in love with Pierre, but there is also a slightly melancholy one with Marya being a bit sad that Andrei is so soon forgotten. But both strands are part of the same music, so by the end of the chapter it all feels right.

Well, that was my impression of the chapter anyway. You may have felt something different entirely.

Also, that brings us to the end of Book 15! From here on in, we have the two parts of the Epilogues to go . . . it’ll soon all be over.

One-Year War and Peace 15.19 – Feeling Good

Reading for Saturday 30 May

Well, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to call this a one-year War and Peace if I drag it out this long. Anyway, back from an extended weekend on the Atherton Tablelands and I just wanted to take this opportunity to say congratulations to my sister-in-law and her husband for their wedding on the weekend. I certainly enjoyed it, and I hope you two did as well.

Now, back to Tolstoy . . . so here’s another short chapter with Pierre just feeling happy (with only the one doubt that he’s somehow misread everything and that he’s making it all up). Who can’t identify with this?

My favourite line was the last one in the chapter:

“Pierre’s madness showed itself in his not waiting, as in old times, for those personal grounds, which he had called good qualities in people, in order to love them; but as love was brimming over in his heart he loved men without cause, and so never failed to discover incontestable reasons that made them worth loving.”

I wonder how many people we might start to like better if we stopped looking for a reason why we should like them in the first place . . .

One-Year War and Peace 15.18 – Leaving for Petersburg

Reading for Friday 29 May

After far too long away – I return . . .

This chapter of Pierre preparing to go away was quite enjoyable, if only because most of us can relate to that degree of infatuation at some time in our life. Every little thing someone says reminds him of who he likes. Every phrase she offers is something for him to ponder and analyse to the nth degree (without ever getting sick of it).

So Tolstoy sucks us into this emotion, so that when Pierre has the conversation with Marya, we feel his elation that he is likely to be able to win Natasha’s hand. And, of course, when she says that sentence (translated in my version as), “I shall so look forward to seeing you again,” we’re over the moon.

One-Year War and Peace 15.17 – A Dinner Conversation

Reading for Thursday, 28 May

The evening with Pierre, Marya and Natasha continues as they sit around the dinner table discussing things. This time, the conversation revolves around Pierre, and he shares his story. Even though, in a sense, it’s rehashing the story that we alreadyhave read, it’s the sense of healing that comes from talking about everything that is so interesting.

Also, another thing that I think is worth mentioning, it’s one of the few times in the book where people actually have honest conversations about what they’re feeling. Most of the time people talk to each other in mock politeness or coldness or there’s some tension going on.

This is just three people, good friends, becoming even better friends. And who doesn’t like that?

Small Rant About a TV Show That Probably No One Else Reading This Blog Will Ever Watch

About three or four weeks ago, an ad came on for a show on Channel 10 called Harper’s Island that was going to run at 9.40 (after Rove). I’m not normally one to follow much TV (not on TV – on DVD, yes, if it’s got a good reputation). But the concept sucked me in. Twenty-five people go to an island, and one of them is going to be murdered every week. In the last week, we’ll find out who the murderer is.

Now, the reason this caught my attention was because this is the plot for a book that I still consider one of the greatest mystery stories of all time, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (which, depending on your age, you may have read under the older title Ten Little Indians and if you are really old – like the copy I first borrowed from a library in Brisbane – you may have read it under its original title Ten Little Niggers. Hmm . . . I wonder why they changed its title?)

The concept with the Christie story was quite simple. Ten people go to an island, for  a variety of reasons. One thinks he’s invited to a reunion, another thinks it’s a party, another think it’s a business deal, etc. This little island, off the coast of England somewhere is a tiny rock that basically contains one large house and not much else. So it’s quite clear from the outset that there are only these 10 characters on the island.

That night, they’re all having a drink, and the butler (one of the ten) is asked to put on a record. The record announces that all of these people are criminals and committed a serious crime and that they’re all going to die for it. That said, one guy falls straight over dead with a poisoned glass.

And that, my friends, is the beginning of one of the greatest thriller romps in literary history. The characters are 2D, but who cares? As they all get killed off, one by one, the paranoia grows and grows. Because the killer must be one of these ten and there is no detective to abstract us from the tension and bring some objectivity. There’s just suspects. And even though you would think it might get easier to work out who the killer is as the numbers dwindle, it actually doesn’t. It gets harder and harder, and the denoument in the Christie book is so brilliantly over the top and unexpected (let’s just say she goes from 10 to 0) that it’s stuck in my mind for years afterwards.

So I’ve always kind of liked this model of thriller as a story. And there was a very clever spin on it with John Cusack a few years ago called Identity.

So I was all set to get into Harper’s Island. I’m still watching it, but it’s really a notch below the Christie, for the following reasons:

  • First of all, it’s a large island off the coast of Seattle, and a whole bunch of people live there. So the killer could turn out to be some nut job that I’ve never seen who lives in the hills. I’m sure it won’t, but it could – and that takes away from the tension of the whole thing.
  • The characters are stupid college types (they’re all out there for a wedding, so there’s a bunch of stereotypical groomsmen and stereotypical bridesmaids) so I don’t particularly care which one they bump off next.
  • But most irritating of all, each episode is a day (starts in the morning, ends at night) and I’ve watched four of them so far and there’s been something like half a dozen people killed so far. Of those six, at least three (I think) came over on the boat with the original party and nobody – but nobody- has stopped to ask, “Hey, I wonder where Uncle So-And-So was that came over with us on the boat? I haven’t seen him anywhere!” I mean, geez, folks, if they’re your favourite relative or your bridesmaid or your friend or whatever they are – surely you would wonder where they are, right? Right? This killer must be scratching his head, thinking to himself, “How many people have I got to chop before they even notice I’m here? This is just stupid . . .”

Anyway, I’m obviously not the only one, because after two episodes, Channel 10 shifted it to the crazy hour of 1.25 am in the morning. I think I’ll just stick to it online from now. Maybe in the 5th episode, they’ll finally notice someone is missing. If they’re not all panicked by episode 8, I really think the murderer might as well give up – clearly these people are brain dead already.

One-Year War and Peace 15.16 – Remembering Andrei

Reading for Wednesday, 27 May

Sorry again for the delay. It’s getting harder to find a chance to sit down and read nowadays. But that’s okay . . .

Well, here we are, continuing the conversation between Pierre, Natasha and Marya. Actually, it’s a bit funny, but I feel like I’ve found an extended ending on a DVD, with this scene.

It’s interesting how this chapter revolves around Andrei, but in some ways, doesn’t. It revolves around him because Pierre pushes Marya and Natasha to talk about him, and so Natasha is able to open up and share her thoughts and her grief.

But then at the same time, the angle that Tolstoy takes with the chapter is to show this as a catalyst for Pierre’s growing attachment to Natasha, Natasha’s healing inside and a similar (though not romantic) working through of the issues for Marya. Rather as Pierre says, Andrei always wanted to be good and achieve something – and he’s achieving something now.

Part of me would have liked Leo to write out Natasha’s remembrances of Andrei in full detail, so that we could hear all her thoughts – but he glosses over this in a paragraph. But then, maybe we can just assume that he already shared all that with us when Andrei lay dying.