Weighty tomes for both reading and for use as replacement table legs
War And Peace is just too long. There, I’ve said it.
There are enormous chunks I could do without, but I can’t put it down, as very exciting when things suddenly happen, which make it worth trawling through all the old women in drawing rooms talking rubbish, whilst young girls sit about talking rubbish, and then generals do some rubbish talking, too. There is also a few chapters covering a hunting expedition (for sport, not food) so graphic and tortuous, they would make someone who had casually stroked a dog once in their life baulk, let alone an animal lover.
But then, bam! Amongst all the pointless scenes, a hugely exciting battle rears up, and a major character’s life is in peril. More than that, we are almost sure he is a gonner. Or there’s a very interesting descriptive field hospital chapter. Or one of those annoying girls dies in childbirth, or dumps her fiancé, tries to elope, then takes arsenic when she discovers her lover is already secretly married. Hot damn!
My copy is 928 pages, condensed onto tissue-paper thickness pages, and written in a font that mice would have to look out their spectacles to see. Normal versions are 1440 pages, and it makes me wonder if it’s possible for an author to write that many words on one story and them all be solid gold. ‘In Search Of Lost Time’ by Proust is the Guinness World record holder for the longest novel, at 1, 267, 069 words, but at least it was published in seven volumes, making it easier to fit in handbags everywhere. ‘Zettels Traum’ by Arno Schmidt is the longest novel ever published in one volume, at an estimated 1, 100, 000 words, and very likely only bought by people with very big hands. Or people who have lost a leg off their bed and need something to hold it level.
I always have more than one book on the go, but only one tombstone of a book at a time, so once War And Peace is done, I’ll be starting Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, at 984, 870 words (1534 pages), and all of these make War Peace, at 587, 287 words, seem like a breezy holiday read, but I stand by the assertion that Tolstoy could have done with a ruthless editor. Or killed a few more people to keep things ticking over, it’s not like War and Peace is short of characters to bump off, or the bullets flying and burning buildings to do so with.