All mediocre books are alike; each great book is great in its own way.
But is this a great book? There's definitely great passages in it. Maybe the gre...moreAll mediocre books are alike; each great book is great in its own way.
But is this a great book? There's definitely great passages in it. Maybe the greatness of this particular book, for me, was its looseness and thematic messiness, combined with its tightness (at least in the first half) in character development and narrative. The book starts off so sharp. I loved the first half, with all the characters in full swing. Even the agriculture bits were illuminating. Then when Levin and Kitty finally find love, it was so sweet. And the death of Levin's brother was wrenching.
But after that point, the book started to lag for me. They go on some hunting expedition. There is some high society nonsense. Some local elections are debated upon, etc. It seemed like he had lost momentum and direction. There were still plotlines to be resolved, but they were almost on autopilot by this point. And yet Tolstoy wanted to continue writing non sequiturs that didn't advance character or plot (or at least very little advancement per page in comparison to what came before)
Anna's story also did not engage me because it was so predictable once she was separated from her husband. And because I didn't like her or Vronsky to begin with. They seem like spoiled brats, and their problems were so privileged that I had a hard time caring. I had almost no sympathy for either of them, which is a pity because the book would have been better if I could see their side more. I also didn't understand the foundation of their passion, other than a base sexual attraction. What besides their passion for each other defined their personalities? Did they have any interests outside of that? OK Vronsky loved his horse racing, and once thought about being ambitious in the military. And Anna supposedly loved his son (but was willing to give him up for a man?) But what did they talk about when they were alone and not having sex? ... I guess I just don't see these two as deep characters the way I see even a relatively minor character like Oblonsky as real flesh and blood. They both seem like archetypes to prove some point for Tolstoy.
And it would help if they didn't take themselves so damn seriously all the time.
But it's probably a good sign (for the book anyway) that the many Goodreads reviews I've read seem to all differ in who they found to be the sympathetic characters. One person basically hated on Levin the whole time while touting Anna as the one with the real problems. And I read many others who found every character sympathetic and some who found none sympathetic.
I liked Levin. But I didn't like the way Tolstoy used him as a mouthpiece for his own rather trite ideas about goodness, God, and life. It felt a bit tacked-on, especially the ending where he was trying too hard to spell out a "Message".
Nevertheless, most of my favorite passages involved Levin. All of these passages soared for me, and almost made up for the dull ones:
- Levin proposing for the second time to Kitty, and his state of mind right afterwards - Levin's brother dying, and the way Kitty handled the situation vs. the way Levin was paralyzed by death - Levin working all day on the farm and feeling energized from it - Levin feeling intense jealousy when Veslovsky flirted with his wife, this was one of the rare funny moments, and also how he tried to be overly friendly with him at points to make up for earlier bouts of irrational jealousy - Koznyshov almost proposing to Varenka in the forest - Kitty befriending Varenka at the spa - Oblonsky being a general doofus in the beginning(less)
For if one feels reverent passion even of a pure nature for a woman, it unconsciously strives for physical fulfilment; nature has created an image of ultimate union for it in the possession of the body--but how can a passion of the mind, offered by one man to another and impossible to fulfil, ever find complete satisfaction?
I am very happy to have discovered Zweig thanks to a few of my GR friends (M. Sarki and Lee). He's a very good writer, and I was completely at the mercy of this story the whole time, even though it's a simple one, and if told by a less skilled writer, I would most likely have been unimpressed or even bored. I love that title 'Confusion' also, because it echoes back through the entire book, and you realize how it is really meant. It's a short book, and anything else I say may give away too much... so just read it already. It's wonderful.(less)