In: Analysis

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I finally finished Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and every time I think about it, it makes me feel tired; the book is dense, with Tolstoy stringing out multiple storylines and introducing the most realistic cast characters I’ve ever come across.

It’s not the most rewarding novel, but it’s interesting to note Tolstoy’s observations on society and human nature; he dissects his characters’ psyches and exposes their motivations (which are often contradictory) and feelings with a depth that almost makes the book unenjoyable. It may boil down to psychological masturbation (or psychological rape, depending on how well you really want to know someone), but it’s hard to fault an author who can show his characters as they truly are, not as he thinks they should be. The book–which is badly-written and exasperatingly digressive–is as flawed as its characters, and this, interestingly enough, only enhances the overall portrait.

Granted, I’ve never been married, but if you really want to know what married life is like, Anna Karenina has an answer. And it’s not as appealing as you might think. (I could be saying this because I’m always looking for reasons not to get married.) It’s an institution, for all its declarations of purity, that’s easily ruined by human nature, by jealousy, infatuation, and rash decision-making. In fact, after reading this book, you may not want to get married at all. Tolstoy explores his themes of jealousy and adultery with the sort of intimacy that would make even the most secure person uncomfortable. The temptation is always there, and can manifest itself in seemingly benign situations; all it takes is for you to give in to it. And as Tolstoy shows, giving in is easier than most people would care to admit. The consequences can be absurdly disastrous. Here, he uses jealousy to remind us that we’re human, and that bad things can happen to good people, despite best intentions (or no intentions, as the case may be). But when emotions have spiralled out of control, when revenge, out of pure selfishness, seems to be the only solution, clear thinking might only come in retrospect.

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