I would have loved to give War and Peace a 5 star rating. I was so close, too. But then we reached the 100-page epilogue and it was all downhill from there. Granted, I made it through more than 1250 pages before I started to consider the possibility of a DNF, but I had gotten that far and with good reason, so I thought I would see it out.
The cover of my edition has a quote from Simon Schama, whoever that may be: "It's a book that you don't just read, you live." I couldn't agree more. The first 100 pages were the hardest and at one point just about put me to sleep, but as I delved further and further into the lives of these Russian families in the midst of a hectic war that no one really knows why they're fighting, I just was absorbed into it all - the story, the history and most of all, the characters. There are a lot of them and to start with it can difficult to discern between your Rostovs and Denisovs and Dolokhovs, and the various Maryas and Annas and all the counts and princesses (honestly, is everyone in the Russian aristocracy some kind of royalty?) but once you read on you can narrow it down to who are the most central characters and who else is just there in the background.
Over the 1000 pages, I connected with the characters and felt invested in their lives and the relationships they made with each other. As they grew up, became men and women, went to war, dealt with the aftermath of losing loved ones. As they got married, tried to move on with their lives, made mistakes - I felt for them, I didn't hold back when I thought they were doing stupid things. When Nikolay Rostov was gambling, when Pierre married a woman he didn't love, when Andrey lost a wife he barely knew. When Natasha danced around from man to man, when Princess Marya endured the wrath of her horrible father, when Sonya sacrificed her happiness again. I was happy when they were, when they finally found the things in life that made it worth it, and I regretted not all of them could have known this. I lived their lives with them, over the three weeks I read this book.
War and Peace is more than just a novel of society families, and Tolstoy was adamant to insistent he didn't consider it a novel at all. It is also a testament that the 'great man' Napoleon was not so great, and Tolstoy is going to tell you why. In great detail. It was also a reflection of the questions people still ask themselves today "Why do we go to war?" "Why do we commit such terrible acts against our fellow human being?" "What is the point?" The characters often find themselves questioning all of these things and more. There was also quite a lot of tactical discussion which left me a little lost, however these were integrated into the overall story so I wasn't lost for too long.
Until, of course, that cursed epilogue. One hundred pages of epilogue, and only fifty (the first fifty) on the characters and how their lives turned out. The rest was - well, I'm not even sure. A long discussion on the subject of man and free will that to be honest, I just skimmed. I hadn't realized that the narrative was over until I was a few pages in and to me, the rest felt completely unnecessary in terms of the novel. It made it hard for the book to leave a good impression, as much as I had enjoyed it up until then. With so much invested, I wanted to finish it feeling something real, some positive or even a negative emotion due to the story, rather than the annoyance I felt when I realized the characters weren't going to be mentioned for the next 50 pages. And yet, I stuck with it and I saw it out, all the way to the end.
My advice to anyone reading this book for the narrative though: skip the second epilogue.