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Monday, 26 February 2007

Tolstoy 'lite' anyone? At least that's how The Australian, in a syndicated story, is labelling the publication, by HarperCollins, of a short version of the classic War and Peace.

Which is not, in my book, Tolstoy's best work by a long shot. In fact, its reputation seems to me to be overblown. As proof, I tell you that I remember very little of the novel. Anna Karenina, on the other hand, sticks in my mind tenaciously. Levin's philosophising at the end of that book is so memorable because it is so ridiculous. Equally stubborn are memories of Anna slowly being broken down by society. Her hienous husband. Her foolish brother.

The new book, however, can be considered an addition to the canon if we accept that it was, in fact, an earlier version of the novel that Tolstoy would eventually go on to write. If we do so, this event appears less about appeasing lazy readers, than providing additional fodder for the academics who will, no doubt, pore over it in an effort to discover new insights to its author's vision.

The Literature Network says that "Tolstoy's major work, War and Peace, appeared between the years 1865 and 1869." The piece in The Australian says that the new work was "completed in 1866 but never published". So it was an early draft. In that case, I can only applaud the publication itself, and decry those who pick it up hoping for an easy read.

Hooray for novels "the size of a breeze block"!

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