intense sensations

Posts Tagged ‘war

Lately my memory has become very unreliable. I keep waking up in the middle of the night with a recurring nightmare. It’s that I’ve reviewed the same book twice on my blog and expressed completely contrary opinions.

It has taken me five months to read this novel. I’d forgotten more than half of it by the time Natasha married Pierre. A compassionate author would have stopped there but Tolstoy had another 200 pages in him and was determined to give us every cruel word.

I formed some strong opinions of this book during those 200 pages. At the time they seemed very distinct and clear but they are fading fast so I’d better write them down quick before I forget them too.

Quite a lot has happened over the last five months. The six episodes of the latest BBC adaptation have come and gone. The actors and actresses have started to pop up in new projects. Andrew Davies has written half a dozen adaptations of other novels…

I heard that Andrew Davies ripped up War and Peace so that he could adapt it. He even threw large chunks of it away.

How I wish I’d thought of that!

I’m having therapy on my wrists because of the internal bruising caused by propping open its pages.

“The aim of an artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably,” wrote Tolstoy when he started this novel, “but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.”

The word “inexhaustible” is the most important word in that sentence. Life is inexhaustible and so must you be. It is a sprawling, unforgiving novel that follows the structureless confusion of real life. Intentionally so. Every minor character gets a starring role and an extensive backstory. The peaks become troughs and then peaks again and then hillocks and then peter out across a plain of infinite flatness stretching towards a horizon that we never approach.

Anna Karenina is a tightly-focused vignette compared to this. Infinite Jest is flash fiction.

I’m glad I read it, though. It was five months well spent. But then living my life would also have been five months well spent. And in a way I was living my life. War and Peace is life. That’s what it is. Not a novel. Life.

And I’ve lived it. Definitely.

There is one other thing I am very sure of. I can be absolutely confident that I will never review this novel twice.

A Farewell to ArmsA Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t care what anyone says, you don’t get to be a literary giant just by writing short sentences shorn of adjectives. There has to be something else there beating beneath the surface of your words. Something that you can only acquire through painful experience. Something you learn the hard way.

Frederic Henry, the hero in this novel, has the swagger. The war, he tells us, had nothing to do with him and was no more dangerous than in the movies. He has the machismo. He knew he didn’t love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her.

Then he acquires the experience.

Gradually we discover that the hard shell of his pared down vocabulary conceals a deep, intense, heartfelt, shattering, unsustainable emotion.

Then maybe we cry and we supply the adjectives Hemingway and Henry refused to give us.

A Farewell to Arms is for me Hemingway’s most perfect novel because it tells the story without any mannerisms or distractions. It is like one of his short stories, only longer. And it makes me cry with a minimum of adjectives.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits


Books by Vanessa Wu

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