Well. War and Peace is over. After well over 1,000 pages of historical musings, scandals and...well, war, we're FINALLY over the finish line!! I genuinely can't quite believe it. I was driving home from work this evening and pondering what I'd do with the couple of hours between finishing eating dinner and bed and realised that I didn't have to try and squeeze in any chapters of anything if I didn't want to! It's crazy how used to working in reading War and Peace into my week I'd clearly got.
I actually only just managed to finish on time, crawling through the second epilogue yesterday morning (grumbling and muttering to myself the whole time). I got behind last week but there was absolutely no chance that I was going to miss finishing with everybody else.
The biggest THANK YOU to Hanna for pulling us all together to tackle this epic tome, for keeping reading even while feeling grim (a feat that I still think is amazing) and for posting prompts each week that made posting about our weekly trudges through Tolstoy's sometimes-less-than-exciting ramblings much less of a chore. Hanna, you are wonderful and I owe you one. More than one, probably.
I feel kind of weird writing this but LET'S WRAP THIS UP!
The Read-a-long's Final Prompts!
1. Was War & Peace what you expected or did it surprise you?
The heavily war-focussed chapters over the past few weeks were what I'd expected the whole book would be like so I was surprised (and immeasurably relieved) to find that that wasn't the case. I'd built it up in my mind to be something intimidating, confusing and hard work and it wasn't really any of those things. Obviously it was long (so long!) and I won't pretend that I took in much of the military tactics or that I could list reams of key Russian army figures from the early nineteenth century but I found an awful lot of it engaging and not all that hard to read and follow. Pleasant surprises all.
2. What was your favourite part?
For some reason, I'm finding this kind of hard to answer. I actually think the First Epilogue. I really liked the first few chapters but reading the ending of everybody's stories was just...nice. Especially Mary's ending. That made my heart happy. I think it also felt so great because I'd been waiting so damn long to get back to those characters that reading about them all together and seeing how the war had affected them all made most of the drudgery that went immediately before it in some of the later books seem worth it. Mostly.
3. Least favourite part?
That HORRENDOUS excuse for a "Second Epilogue". If you'd asked me this question a couple of weeks ago, the hunting chapters would have won. I would gladly have had more hunting if it had made the tedious waffle about the meaning of power and the role of historians stop. I read a few sentences on each page properly and skimmed the rest, hoping that it would get better before I threw my Kindle through a window. It didn't get better but the skimming saved both my Kindle and my windows so I'm comfortable with my decision. It was horrific and painful and I deeply resented every minute of my precious Sunday that it stole.
4. Have you learned anything from War & Peace? Either Russian history, or in a more abstract, how-to-read-big-books way?
I kind of think I did. I couldn't write an essay about Napoleon but I really feel as though I know more about the early nineteenth century in Russia than I did before we started out. I also learnt that just because something is ludicrously long and seems like it just will not stop, it doesn't mean that you can't face it down. Also, everything is better with book bloggers.
5. Be honest, how close did you come to giving up?
Do you know what? I don't think I ever seriously considered giving up. There was always enough left that I cared about (the Rostovs) that I had to know how it finished and even when I found the book hard going, ranting about it with the other read-alongers took the edge off. The hardest part was the last few weeks and by then, there was no chance I'd have given up. So really what I'm saying is that I never really considered giving up but that the answer may well have been very different it hadn't been for the read-along.
6. How did it feel when you FINALLY finished?
Giddy. Drunk on relief. Overwhelmed. Annoyed at Tolstoy for finishing his book in such an unbelievably awful way. Proud. FREE. It was a heady time. I don't think I've really got my head round actually having finished. The idea of reading whatever I want feels...unreal, still. I think it will take some getting used to.
7. What's the first book you're going to pick up without Tolstoy-induced guilt?
No guilt! I've already picked back up The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, which I started during one of the shorter weeks and it feels so strange to be reading it without feeling as though I really should be reading something else. I know I'm repeating myself but I feel disorientated by the freedom. Probably because I'm reading something that I started during the read-along so it's still connected in some way to Tolstoy. My first completely free choice will be Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon.
Hanna texted me about a week ago to say that she'd started Outlander/Cross Stitch (depending on where you are in the world) and the more I remembered how much I'd liked that one, the more I wanted to get back to the series. And, as Hanna wisely pointed out, it's a good bridging book because it's much lighter than War and Peace without being so light that it would seem ridiculous. I can't wait.
8. Would you recommend this book to a friend? Would you reread it?
Much though the last few weeks felt like hard work, I'd still recommend it to a friend. On the whole, I enjoyed it. It was fascinating in places and there's a lot that's great about it. I would obviously recommend it only to people that aren't easily put off by seemingly endless chapters about hunting and to people that don't get bored easily but I'd still recommend it. But would I read it again? No. No, no, no, no, no. NO.
THANK YOU, READ-ALONGERS! We did it. We really did it :) Anybody fancy doing it all over again with a read-along of The Woman in White in September/October?!