‘Anna Karenina is a novel of unparalleled richness and complexity, set against the backdrop of Russian high society. Tolstoy charts the course of the doomed love affair between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer who pursues her after becoming infatuated at a ball. Although she initially resists his charms Anna eventually succumbs, falling passionately in love and setting in motion a chain of events that leads to her downfall. In this extraordinary novel Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together the lives of dozens of characters, while evoking a love strong enough to die for,
My first introduction to ‘Anna Karenina’ was walking in on my mother watching the old black and white 1948 version of the film starring Vivien Leigh. Unfortunately, I walked in right at the end of the film just in time to see poor Anna’s train related demise and together my mother and I pronounced the film to be incredibly depressing and therefore not really our cup of tea. Fast forward a number of years until last December and, after watching the fantastic films ‘The Revenant’, ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ I fell madly in love with the phenomenally talented actor Domhnall Gleeson. Intent on watching as many of his performances as I could to truly appreciate how talented he is I set myself the task of watching as much of his filmography as I could get my grubby little mitts on. This led me to watching his sensational performance as Levin in the 2012 film version directed by Joe Wright and thus my love affair with Anna Karenina began.
Now I have to be honest, I always consider watching the film adaptation of a novel before reading the book a risky business. I almost always find that book is miles better and if I watch the film first I inevitably end up disappointed with the adaptation. Whereas, if I read the book first I find it far easier to separate the two and I find that I’m less disappointed with the movie. However, ‘Anna Karenina’ is a ridiculously long novel at just shy of a thousand pages and, I have to be honest, I can’t imagine myself stopping myself from watching the film for long enough to read the novel first. But actually, I’m quite glad that I did it in that order because the only real thoughts I had towards the film while reading the novel were about just how good the screenwriters were at picking out key scenes, images and characters to include in the film and properly tell the story without making it 10 hours long.
I have to say though, I did really enjoy delving into Tolstoy’s world because the sheer volume of detail means that not only are you completely immersed in the story but that the characters seem truly vivid and real. I particularly enjoyed reading about Oblonsky whose charm seeped through the pages and made him an enjoyable and attractive personality that coloured the text beautifully.
Not that all characters were as endearing, in fact I found Anna and Levin, arguably the two main characters, quite irritating towards the end. Anna was a brilliant and engaging main character but watching her driven into a jealous craze was awful and I couldn’t help but lose all sympathy for her at her last, bitter act. I loved Levin for his honest and simple heart but by devoting the majority of part eight after Anna’s death to his inner moral struggle finding a purpose to life was exhausting. Perhaps it was just me, but I honestly couldn’t find any similar ground with a character who had it all but was willing to throw it all away just because he couldn’t work out the meaning of life. I just wanted to shake him and tell him to get over it and get on with it. His wife and child needed him and he was moping around just because he couldn’t find a Purpose.
Basically I did love the novel and even enjoyed the annoying twist in the characters because, at the end of the day, their flaws made them human and believable. It might not be a book that I’ll hurry back to reread, purely down to the size, but it made me really want to revisit the film and I feel like that’s the best sign I could have hoped for.