Friday, August 02, 2013

Some books you never recover from

On last weeks post, I rediscovered a book that I had read as a teenager and mentioned that I should read other books again, too, to have a more mature view on them. But there are books I’ll never read again. One of them is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. 

Anna Karenina is a good book; great even, if you understand its complexity. I got immersed in the story and couldn’t put it down. I had no idea what to expect so I didn’t expect anything – except a happy ending like everything I had read so far had had. In hindsight, I was maybe too young to read it, but it was on my parents’ shelf and there were no limitations to what I was allowed to read.

There are many layers to Anna Karenina, cultural, political and historical, that a fourteen-year-old simply couldn’t grasp properly. I was fascinated by everything I read, and I’m sure I learned a lot, especially about the restrictions governing a woman’s life. Mostly, however, I read it as a romance.

And we all know how that romance ends.

I believe Anna Karenina was my first encounter with a book that didn’t end the way I wanted it to. It certainly was the one to make a lasting impression. I had lived through the incredible love story of Anna and Vronsky, only to be bitterly disappointed. I couldn’t quite comprehend what happened on that railway station; I definitely couldn’t predict Anna’s choice. I was flabbergasted and left wanting a different ending.

I remember being very angry with the book. I felt cheated out of my happy ending. Moreover, the feeling lasted beyond that book. I wouldn’t pick up a book until I was reasonably sure it would end well. Coping with the emotional stress of a tragedy was beyond my mental capacity. I read books that had no romance in them whatsoever; all Agatha Christie books that I could find, for example, their predictable logic and guaranteed ending exactly what I wanted from a book. It took a couple of years before I ventured to read another Russian classic. This time, however, I knew what to expect and the impact wasn’t as profound.

I’ve seen a couple of movie adaptations of Anna Karenina, but knowing how the story will end has guaranteed that I go in feeling apprehensive. The ending isn’t such a shock, but the experience is never enjoyable. I haven’t seen the latest version – nor shall I. I haven’t quite recovered from the book yet.