Yesterday I finished reading War and Peace. This is the quintessential Really Long Book, often referred to jokingly as such. If you want to say you had to wait a really long time you say that you could read War and Peace while you’re waiting. For this reason, I have always wanted to read it. I like long books. On the other hand, I have always been put off by the title. Books about war generally don’t appeal to me. (Unless there are space ships) But Kindle and Project Gutenberg make these things so easy.
I actually rather enjoyed it, for the most part, though there were parts that I found less interesting. I almost immediately got interested in the characters and their lives and started to care what happened to them and for me this is the number one mark of a good novel. On the negative side, the book ends with two lengthy epilogs, the second of which consists of nothing but Tolstoy blathering on and on and on and on about history and, of all things, free will. He made a pretty good point that in the present we believe we have free will but the farther back we go in history the more people’s actions seem inevitable. This point could have been made in a paragraph or two or, at most, a few pages but it took Tolstoy twelve chapters. Perhaps this is why people think of War and Peace as being interminably long.
And just how long is it? According to this Wikipedia List of Longest Novels, 1440 pages. (I had to look it up because Kindle doesn’t give you page numbers.) That’s long but really not exceptionally long. James Michener’s novels, for example, are typically over 1000 pages. And there are many trilogies with total page counts that easily equal that of W&P. And yes, I think that’s a fair comparison when the trilogy is one story in three books. This list of 10 Longest Novels in the English Language has a 10 volume work as #1 and numbers 2 through 6 are also longer than W&P.
This is not intended as an attempt to knock War and Peace down from its pedestal. I only want to say that maybe using it as a metaphor for “really long” doesn’t make as much sense as we assume it does. And, don’t be afraid of long books. Long is good. The longer the book the longer you get to stay in that world.