The Russians are the big gap in my reading life. I read a handful of the greats when I was a student, but I’ve not tackled them since. Every time I look at Dostoyevsky I think ‘I’ll get round to that when I’m retired’. I’m not quite sure why, as I’m not afraid of long books. So – of the great Russian novels that I have read, Anna Karenina is the one that made the deepest impression on me, probably because there’s a strong central love story to hang all the big social, political and religious stuff on. I found War and Peace heavy going, because of the descriptions of battles; I struggle with description at the best of times, but when it’s something like a battle, I start to skim. I find it quite hard now to separate the experience of reading Anna Karenina from the experience of watching the Greta Garbo movie on my little portable black & white telly around the same time, and clutching my pearls when she appeared through the steam at the railway station. I’d bracket Anna Karenina with Middlemarch as books that made me rethink some of my adolescent moral assumptions; I wonder how both of those books would strike me now that I’ve experienced all the stuff that, back then, I only knew from the pages of novels.
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