Monday, 11 February 2013

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy - Edward P. Morgan

This weekend I launched forth into my Classics Club challenge. I'm excited but nervous too. Trepidatious, even. I really want to enjoy the process. To enjoy the ride, as it were. Instead of aching for the result, the end. Which is my normal state of affairs. Mmm, did I say this would be a challenge?

I chose to begin with one of the biggest players: Leo Tolstoy. To somehow underline the enormity of the task at hand. I am inexplicably drawn to the Russians. And they rarely disappoint. LT's The Kreutzer Sonata certainly didn't. It was totally compelling.

Tolstoy has such a beautiful, natural writing style that makes reading easy. A joy. I think many may be put off by the grandeur of the man. The personality that is Tolstoy. His reputation. His name. But seriously, this is a mistake. The man was an artist of the written word. Recounting tales so naturally that the only natural thing is to read them. Naturally. 

Now, I’ve since read that, on publication, this was a controversial book. Possibly still is. And I must say that it is heavy on morality. Which is always controversial. 

The tale in itself is of great simplicity: one man on a train explaining to a total stranger how he came to kill his wife.
In essence, the man on the train, Pozdnyshev, condemns human behaviour. In particular, the behaviour of men in relation to women. He condemns a society which promotes a conduct in men he believes is unbecoming. And which reduces the value of women in both man’s eyes and their own. 
His tough stance and the forceful projection of his ideas and ideals are somewhat softened by their presentation. In the conversation of a man almost broken by what he has lived through. He stands in judgment of himself, as much as of anyone else. And opens himself up for judgment by others. Warts n all. With a compelling honesty.

And ends his discourse asking for forgiveness. From the stranger. Or possibly from his wife. Or even from the world in general.
Honesty in writing is mesmerising. I think We need to talk about Kevin had a similar effect on me when I read it. Reading words that are never said, somehow never should be said. You almost stop breathing. Can’t breathe. So much honesty. Too much honesty. Like seeing into someone’s soul. Which is tempting. But ultimately undesirable.
I’m not saying that I agree with everything LT says. Far from it, indeed. However, it cannot be denied that he raises interesting issues and makes some valid points. And this can only be applauded. Don’t we all need somebody to challenge our beliefs and principles from time to time? To make us consider or reconsider what we accept without thought? Unconditionally?

And can I say that I enjoyed this first journey very much. I hope that bodes well...


  1. I've always wanted to read Tolstoy but was scared off by the enormity of the task. Any suggestions for a a Tolstoy beginner?

    1. I'd really encourage you to go for it. But I'm absolutely no expert of Tolstoy. What I would say is perhaps start with short stories. It always lessens the enormity of the task for me. How about The Death of Ivan Ilych?

  2. Great post. Totally makes me want to revisit some Tolstoy.