About six months ago, I decided it was time for me to take on a literary “classic”, so I picked up War & Peace off my bookshelf and dived in, determined to finish the book before the year was out.
Well, it’s now the 2nd October and I’ve given up.One hundred and eighty-odd pages and I’ve had enough. I tried, I really did, but in the end the dense, hard-going prose got the better of me.
It’s not the first ‘classic’ I’ve taken on, I hauled myself through Robinson Crusoe, and quite enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo, but neither of those could prepare me for the pure stodge of Tolstoy’s novel.
Normally, I can sit down and read a good book for hours on end, sometimes long after I should really be asleep, but not this one. Sentence after sentence strained my eyes and hurt my brain, each new character sending me leafing backwards to work out who they were and what connection they had – and when I’d finally worked it out and resumed my place, I’d lost enthusiasm and gave up shortly afterward. I couldn’t even bear to take it to Austria with me in May, I plumped for a trilogy of James Ellroy books, which I carried on with back home, with War & Peace sat neglected on my bedside table gathering dust.
Eventually, feeling guilty, I picked it up again and really dug in at the end of July and into August, even taking it on holiday to South Wales with me (yes, a second holiday, aren’t I middle class?). Sadly though, I’ve not picked it up again since the beginning of September, and it doesn’t fill me with excitement to think of doing so. Which has got me thinking…
Is it me? Or is it modern society in general that isn’t able to handle such a literary challenge? It’s safe to say that these days everything is given to us in easy to digest chunks, so when something like War & Peace comes along that requires commitment and concentration, we struggle. Welcome distractions like magazines, television or games consoles get in the way.
I’ve ready too many books to count in my lifetime, and this is only the second time I’ve given up on a book – the first time was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. So maybe it’s just the style of writing that has beaten me down.
I’ve read many Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby novels, and enjoyed the turning of every page, James Ellroy is also another of my favourites, and I can’t remember how many times I’ve worked my way through the Adrian Mole canon (to the amusement and mocking of my family), and even as a youngster I was tackling Agatha Christie books before I left Primary School, so I know I’m not a stupid person (although my ex-wife did recently try to suggest I had mild Dyspraxia).
So, this post could be seen as a review, a poor one at that. But I am determined to return to War & Peace at some point in the future, and defeat the beast. For now though, I need to immerse myself in something a little lighter, so I will be picking up a book my brother gave me for my birthday back in July, ‘Hope And Glory’ by Stuart Maconie.
Just out of interest, are there any books that you readers have tried and given up on? If so, would you give it another go?