Thursday, 16 April 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Ten, Book Thirteen

I said it when I put up the prompts and I'll say it again - I'm finding it really hard to see the book that I was enjoying so much in February in what we're reading at the moment.  Take now, for example.  I could be dragging myself through some more dreary war chapters for this week's reading (which I am so very badly behind on...) and instead I'm writing this slightly moany post about last week's reading!  I couldn't be more excited about breaking through the current drudgery and getting back to something (ANYTHING) a bit more interesting.

1)  The only bit of this week's war-themed escapades that I really took in was a small section where it got interesting and the Russians started getting ready to attack the French but then got confused because they couldn't find somebody or other so they did it the next day and botched it again because they went crazy and just started trying to beat on some French people.  Does anybody feel as though they're learning?

When I wrote that question, I'd forgotten that there was a good chapter about what Napoleon tried to implement when the French were occupying Moscow.  So if that was true, I learnt more about that. Generally, though, I feel like I was learning more earlier on when I was more engaged and the history was being relayed in gossipy tones at parties than when I was experiencing it "live".  I found the chapters about policy and tactics and whatever Kutuzov was up to unutterably dull and just switched off entirely.  I've tried to focus and keep track of which generals are where and what they're up to but I just can't.  I think the bottom line is that I feel as though I've learnt more about the global picture but I couldn't tell you much about the specifics.

2)  Clearly Tolstoy's not a Napoleon fan - as far as Tolstoy's concerned, he's lucky at best. Thoughts?

So it turns out that this might just be my view.  My reading of Tolstoy's musings on Napoleon is that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  At worst, I get the feeling that Tolstoy thinks that the French army were successful in spite of Napoleon - there's one chapter that stuck in my mind where Napoleon was trotting about and issuing orders that were ignored/not relayed and dressing up in different uniforms because he liked the adoration of the public and likes the flattering historians trotting about with him.  

3)  According to Shmoop, Pierre's only been in prison for four weeks.  And in four weeks he's decided to completely re-write his personality while shedding some pounds.  I've been surprised by how well Tolstoy has portrayed the French's treatment of their prisoners.  Maybe he's not so biased after all? [I realise that's not technically a question but I'm late so we're going with it]

Although I think Tolstoy's chapters on how everybody fighting are all people and how they're driven to fight each other for no reason that they can fully understand are interesting, I do find his writing about the Russian generals to be much more favourable than his portrayals of the French and that he is by no means a neutral storyteller.  In the end, I don't feel as though I can quite trust his version of history.  I know that he claims to be breaking apart the myths perpetuated by historians but I just feel as though there's something about his talking about "our" army that makes me feel as though he perhaps isn't doing quite the public service he suggests.

4)  This might be a ridiculous question given that some of you may not be flying by the seat of your pants and only just staying caught up (like nobody around here, obviously) but is anybody else worried that the final two books are going to be all about Napoleon trudging back across Russia and that we're only going to get back to the characters we actually care about in retrospect when we hit the Epilogues?!

PLEASE DON'T BE ALL WAR UNTIL THE EPILOGUES!  I can't say much more about Book Fourteen because I've been busy with work and bridesmaid duties (two gigs this summer - clearly I'm getting to "that age"!) and haven't managed to get into following the French convoy as they keep on marching.  I thought after the end of last week's reading, we'd be getting back to the good stuff but no. I'm genuinely worried that it's going to be a slog through to the epilogues but now that we're close to the end, I'm hoping that I can just power through.  Chances are I'm in for a big catch-up read on Sunday too because I'm busy through until Sunday morning now, which I am almost certain will be a lot like hard work...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Book Club Chatter #2: 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' by Agatha Christie

Since January, I've managed to miss two book club meetings.  I missed the February meeting because I was too busy at work to finish "early" (at 5.15pm...) and go to the meeting.  That was a shame, actually, because the book was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and I was curious to see what other readers made of it.  From what I gathered from chatting with other book clubbers after the meeting, the feelings were really positive about the book on the whole but nobody really saw the point of the titular miniaturist.  So pretty much what I thought myself.  I missed the March meeting because I was a month into the War and Peace read-along and didn't manage to read the book (which was a bit annoying because it's one I've owned for years but not read) - The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.  I'm sure I'll read it one day.

April's pick:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I'll admit I was relieved when I got the email listing our next few reads and I saw that the book for April was one I'd already read.  If it hadn't been, I'd have been skipping out on April too because there's been no time for anything else while I've been facing down Tolstoy.  

Five people turned up to the meeting (including me) and I spoke to two people who couldn't make it but who'd read the book. Out of the seven of us, five really liked it and two weren't keen.  More surprisingly (to me) was the fact that two readers actually managed to guess the ending.  One other book clubber said that they had suspicions about the ending but that they didn't actually guess it.  I was completely blind-sided by the ending.  The thing I find with Agatha Christie is that I think that maybe if I really tried one day, I'd be able to fathom out the murderer but, like I said when I was defending my lack of sleuth skills, I don't think I want to.  Part of the fun of Christie's books for me is that moment where Poirot or whoever gets everybody in a room and unravels the mystery for me.  I like reading the clues but not really trying to puzzle them out and I get as much enjoyment out of being surprised as I think I would at being proven right.

The readers that thought The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was "just ok" found the mystery aspect got in the way of the portrait of English village life in the 1920s.  It wasn't Christie they didn't like per se, just crime fiction generally.  It seems that if you aren't a crime fan, this isn't going to convert you, which I found interesting because I thought that if anything could, it would be this book.  What do I know?

There were some big Christie fans among the group (both of whom declared a love for Miss Marple, which I do not get) but also some complete newbies.  It was a nice mix and meant that after we'd all done shock face over the ending and discussed why people did/didn't like it, we got onto sharing other Christie recommendations.  Obviously I sang the praises of And Then There Were None, which remains hands down my favourite Christie and probably one of my favourite books.  Others shouted (not literally) about the wonders of Murder on the Orient Express, which I read last year and also really liked, but there weren't any recommendations for stand out novels that I hadn't already read.  Boo.

May's pick: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earthby Chris Hadfield

I'm not at all sure about this pick.  I have next to no interest in space travel and the like.  I actually dislike that so much money is poured into sending people off to Mars while there are people that don't have enough to eat and that are homeless.  So do I want to read about an astronaut's adventures?  Not especially.  Also, there's a whiff of self-help in the description: "his vivid and refreshing insights in this book will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth – especially your own".  Ugh.  I know that the point of a book club is to stretch yourself and read outside your comfort zone but I would never have picked this up on my own.  I guess we'll see how it goes.

Monday, 13 April 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Ten


Wow. I'm struggling to remember the good times now, fellow Tolstoyers!  I know that there was a happier time when I was enjoying reading this book (maybe even just a week ago?!) but I'm feeling the burn  now.  I'm tired of reading Tolstoy's long over-stretched beast metaphor and I don't want to read about what Napoleon did or didn't intend.  I just want to know what's going on with the characters that I actually liked!

I'll be honest - this week's reading did not light my world on fire and my knowledge of Russian history is not spectacular.  Bear that in mind while you're perusing the prompts...

1)  The only bit of this week's war-themed escapades that I really took in was a small section where it got interesting and the Russians started getting ready to attack the French but then got confused because they couldn't find somebody or other so they did it the next day and botched it again because they went crazy and just started trying to beat on some French people.  Does anybody feel as though they're learning?

2)  Clearly Tolstoy's not a Napoleon fan - as far as Tolstoy's concerned, he's lucky at best. Thoughts?

3)  According to Shmoop, Pierre's only been in prison for four weeks.  And in four weeks he's decided to completely re-write his personality while shedding some pounds.  I've been surprised by how well Tolstoy has portrayed the French's treatment of their prisoners.  Maybe he's not so biased after all? [I realise that's not technically a question but I'm late so we're going with it]

4)  This might be a ridiculous question given that some of you may not be flying by the seat of your pants and only just staying caught up (like nobody around here, obviously) but is anybody else worried that the final two books are going to be all about Napoleon trudging back across Russia and that we're only going to get back to the characters we actually care about in retrospect when we hit the Epilogues?!

TWO WEEKS TO GO!!


Monday, 6 April 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Nine, Book Twelve

Aren't bank holidays just the best?!  Two extra days off seem to make such a huge difference. And because I'm British, I'm going to mention that the weather has been delightful.  I actually managed to sit outside and read yesterday afternoon, which was glorious. Today would have been much the same  but then some friends came over and we spent the day sitting outside eating and drinking instead - what can you do?  Still, I've pretty much finished this week's reading I think so if I'm not completely flat out with work this week, I'll actually get more time to squeeze in something that doesn't feature Napoleon!

1)  With the multiple deaths, this week started to feel a little more like Tolstoy was starting to wrap up some of his characters' stories. How do you feel about the way Helene's death was dealt with compared to Andrew's?

For some reason, this week felt like the beginning of the end.  Obviously it was the end for Helene and Andrew but I just felt like loose ends were starting to come together and that the end was in sight!

Helene's death was classic Tolstoy killing off one of his characters in a blink-and-you-miss-it fashion but Andrew's seemed to have more thought about it.  I mean, it wasn't quite as much page space as you'd expect for the death of one of the major characters in an epic novel but it was more considered.  He was at least the focus of an entire chapter and got to do some musing about his impending death before he was written out.  I wouldn't necessarily put it entirely down to gender but it does seem as though Tolstoy just can't write a good death scene!

2)  I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call myself a Pierre fan but his experiences as a prisoner were quite moving. How do you think Pierre is going to fare as we approach the end of the novel?

I'm dying to know what spoiler Hanna saw that has her so irritated!  My prediction for Pierre, though, is some kind of underwhelming death.  OR he's going to have some kind of epiphany while he's a prisoner and is going to renounce his wealth when he's free and devote himself to whatever harebrained scheme pops into his head at the time.  Given the amount of time we've spent reading about him, I'd be disappointed if he got the Helene treatment.  Speaking of whom, I'm curious about what Pierre's reaction will be to the news of the death of his wife.  And her divorcing him and her affairs too, I suppose.  It seems weird that that hasn't really been dealt with so far.

In short, I don't foresee a happy ending for Pierre.

3)  Now the competition's opened back up, who are you backing for Nicholas Rostov's future wife, rich heiress Mary or devoted Sonya? 

Please, please let it be Mary!  I've liked Sonya less as the novel's gone on but I did admire her honesty where she was talking about being self-sacrificing and how she only really likes being self-sacrificing when it makes her look good.  Fair.  I'd been feeling a little bit sad for her for being thwarted in her romantic ambitions until that point but the fact that she was "giving up" Nicholas just because she thought that in actual fact he wouldn't be able to marry Mary and would come back to her by default sealed me as  a Mary backer.

4)   The Rostovs have always been my favourite family in War and Peace and seeing them from Mary's perspective was a little bit sad.  How is everyone feeling about how things are going for them?

I feel so sad for them.  When Mary arrived and clocked Count Rostov as a worn out man, I really felt for him.  He's not great when it comes to estate management but I feel as though he means well and I miss the exuberant Count Rostov of the early chapters that could execute some killer dance moves when the occasion called for it.  I never thought that I'd be hoping for someone to marry into money so that the family could be saved but I am.  I hope that Nicholas marries Mary and that she saves the whole family from being ruined.  But I hope that she doesn't boot out Sonya in the process, because I like to think that they're all better than that (other than Countess Rostov, who isn't really in my good books).  Natasha can shove off, obviously.

See you next week as we really start to close in on those epilogues!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Nine

This week I'm standing in for the entirely irreplaceable Hanna as provider of the prompts - hopefully you've managed to track them down! :)

After last week's slog through seemingly endless war, I found this week's shorter chapters far more engaging and, honestly, a breeze. Because it's Tolstoy, it obviously wasn't ramble free but I read most of it on a single 2 hour train journey so it seemed like a win.  This week I passed 80% in my edition, which is frankly unbelievable.

Two pre-prompt notes: one, my edition has modernised characters' names so sorry if they're not as authentic as they might be in your edition; two, if you're a bit behind, there are spoilers coming up so beware!

1)  With the multiple deaths, this week started to feel a little more like Tolstoy was starting to wrap up some of his characters' stories. How do you feel about the way Helene's death was dealt with compared to Andrew's?

2)  I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call myself a Pierre fan but his experiences as a prisoner were quite moving. How do you think Pierre is going to fare as we approach the end of the novel?

3)  Now the competition's opened back up, who are you backing for Nicholas Rostov's future wife, rich heiress Mary or devoted Sonya? 

4)   The Rostovs have always been my favourite family in War and Peace and seeing them from Mary's perspective was a little bit sad.  How is everyone feeling about how things are going for them?

It really feels as though we're on the home straight now!  A few weeks more and we've read War and Peace.  Actual War and Peace.  We are the best and we're winning at life.