Anna Karenina – Part 3

So much for action. Part III was devoid of any action, any movement. It was all about transitions. Levin lulls in the country, trying not to brood over Kitty while he pours his energy into farming. Anna deals with the consequences of having told her husband of her affair with Vronsky.

Anna Karenina is not a difficult read. It is quite simple, even light. But it is a long read. It is layered and detailed. Tolstoy has set Anna’s adultery among Kitty’s self-development, Levin’s agricultural experiments, and her own brother Stiva’s adultery and marital woes for good reason: to compare and contrast the relationships of those in 19th century Russian society with the society itself. How does the society affect the relationships, for good or bad?

“The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed that the scythe was mowing by itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and precise by itself. These were the most blissful moments.”

Levin’s attempts to live closer to nature, his rapture in hard physical labour can be compared to the affair of Anna and Vronsky. The resistance of the peasants to his techniques, and of others in the noble class to his ideals are similar to the resistance of society to Anna and Vronsky’s relationship.

The layers are and metaphors are obvious, and upon reflection, add much to the story and its interpretation. Yet, it cannot be denied that they are boring as heck to read. At least in Parts I and II, the reflections on Russian society were woven into the narrative, and as a part of the story they were interesting bits of added detail and character. In Part III, they were the story. I don’t know about the rest of you, but 15-20 chapters on Russian agriculture just doesn’t excite me.

“I want you not to meet that man here, and to conduct yourself so that neither the world nor the servants can reproach you…not to see him. That’s not much, I think. And in return you will enjoy all the privileges of a faithful wife without fulfilling her duties. That’s all I have to say to you.”

Still, there was some movement near the end. Anna is back home with Karenin, who is determined that she will live with him as if nothing happened and never see Vronsky again. Levin has seen Kitty, and while we don’t yet know how it will happen, he has admitted to himself that she is the only one he will marry, and so we can assume there will be more of this relationship to come in Part IV. And hopefully, as a result, less detail of his life as a farmer.


The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

 “You boiled an entire life, an entire human being . . . down into his most basic, boneheaded elements.”

Gordon Rankin Jr., “Rank” to his friends, is a hulking goon, a hockey enforcer, a bouncer, held in awe by all due to his impressive size and presumed criminal tendencies. When Rank discovers one of his oldest and most trusted friends has published a novel turning his most tragic moments into an embarrassing cliché, Rank writes his own story, through a series of rebuttal emails, revealing the man behind the violent reputation.

How does he do this? He joins Facebook – but then freaks out and deletes his account. He joins again, but under a pseudonym, and with no friends. He returns home for the summer to care for his father who is injured in a roofing accident. He takes the daily visits from the parish priest, a reunion with a teenaged social worker, and constant reminders of his long-dead mother and channels them into a long series of unanswered emails to his author friend, all in an attempt to set the record straight – to tell his story.

“It’s like seeing pictures of yourself that you didn’t even know anyone was taking—candid camera—a whole album of worst-moment closed-circuit stills. There you are taking a dump. There you are saying precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time. There you are stepping on someone’s puppy while scratching your crotch.”

Rank’s process is heartbreaking. We have all been misunderstood, though for most of us the results are not so tragic. We all know (or knew) someone like Rank – but how many incorrect assumptions have gone into our image of this person, and how do we correct it? In The Antagonist, Coady brilliantly explores how the expectations of others influence who we are and who we become. A fantastic read, highly recommended.

Hardcover: 352 pages

Publisher: House of Anansi Press (Aug 3 2011)

ISBN-10: 0887842968

ISBN-13: 978-0887842962

* Long-listed for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Banned Books Blog Hop & Giveaway

Banned Books Week, this year falling September 24 – October 1, is an annual event in the USA which draws attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books.

Banned books aren’t always what you expect. While some include vulgar language, violence or extreme messages, others are far more benign. Books that have been banned in the past include*:

  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, which was removed from classrooms in Stafford County, Virginia for crude language and encouraging children to disobey their parents and other adults.
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London was banned in Italy (1929), Yugoslavia (1929) for being “too wild”, and burned in Nazi bonfires (1932).
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was banned because of “anti-religion, language, and discussion of death.”
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Banned in Ireland (1932) and removed from classroom in Montana in 1980, because it made promiscuous sex “look like fun”. (The nerve!)
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell was banned in South Africa in 1955 because of the title.
  • And finally, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned in China in 1931 for portraying animals and humans on the same level.

I am a Reader Not a Writer and I Read Banned Books have organized and are hosting a blog hop giveaway to mark Banned Books Week. Canada doesn’t actually participate in the Week, as we have Freedom to Read Week each February, but as it is a year round and important issue, I wanted to join in anyway.
Over 250 participating blogs are offering a book related giveaway and we are all linked up together so you can easily hop from one giveaway to another.  The hop runs from Saturday September 24 to Saturday October 1. The full list of participating blogs is available at I Read Banned Books.

Giveaway details:

Up for grabs is a $15 gift certificate to buy books at, or any other online retailer of your choice that sells books and has a way for me to send you a $15 online gift certificate. (Note: If there is a way for me to buy you a gift certificate to your local independent bookstore, I would be thrilled to do so. We’ll discuss when a winner is chosen.)

I highly encourage you to consider using the prize to purchase a book from a banned/challenged book list. If you want to argue against the banning of books, it is important to have read and know the content of the books being challenged.

There are some helpful lists at:

How to enter:

To enter giveaway please leave a comment below, indicating your favourite banned or challenged book including a description of what you learned from reading it.

Optional Extra Entry:

+1 Subscribe to the blog by email/RSS/etc.

*Reference for all above, also verified by further Google searches:

BookCamp Halifax 2011 – Tomorrow!

I can’t think of anything more exciting than spending my weekend with a bunch of like-minded book-nerds, and so I volunteered on the organizing committee for this year’s BookCamp, happening tomorrow at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

BookCamp Halifax is a user-generated unconference designed to bring together authors, publishers, readers, educators, and anyone else interested to explore the present and future of books and book-related technologies.

The unconference is led by attendees – anyone can volunteer to host a session. The schedule so far includes  Silver Donald Cameron, Sheree Fitch, Chris Benjamin, Kimberly Walsh (Nimbus Publishing), Jo-Ann Yhard, Sue Goyette and Robbie McGregor (Invisible Publishing). Topics on the schedule include: free and open source software tools for publishing, promotion and distribution, multi-tasking 2.0: how to use social media without distracting from your day job as author/publicist, and self-promotion in the digital world.

I will be participating as a member of a book blogging panel, along with Colleen McKie of Lavender Lines, discussing and taking questions on such topics as the ins and outs of book blogging, what book blogging means to the publishing industry, the role of bloggers, and what is their influence on readers.

Registration is free, and I would love to see you there! You can register on our Eventbrite page at

For added incentive: stay till the end of day, and you are eligible to win a shiny new Kobo!

Also on this weekend: the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia is hosting their fall gala: Fall into Writing. Saturday night at 8pm, Pier 21, for only $10. And Sunday is the annual Word on the Street  festival, this year at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Add to that the closing of the Atlantic Film Festival, and I admit I am run off my feet, in the best of ways.

Anna Karenina – Part 2

“The highest Petersburg society is essentially one: in it everyone knows everyone else, everyone even visits everyone else.”

Well the action has certainly picked up. There is no way to discuss Part II without spoilers, so there will be many. You have been warned.

Anna is back in St. Petersburg, and Vronsky has followed her. She knows this should upset her, but it does not. Quite the opposite really. Anna is changed, and it is not unnoticed. She shuns her old morally upright society companions, now favouring the fashionable set – which of course includes Vronsky and his cousin Betsy – now Anna’s constant companion. Her new BFF,  if you will.

Anyone who has lived in a small town or been part of a smaller community in a large town will be familiar with this. Anna and Vronsky are the subject of continual chatter and gossip, with their friends the worst offenders.

“Alexey Alexandorivich had seen nothing striking or improper in the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a separate table, in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed that to the rest of the party this appeared to be something striking and improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his wife.”

Karenin’s reaction to his wife’s behaviour is most interesting. He does not feel jealous, as to him jealous is illogical (which is an opinion I share, making his internal musings of particular interest to me). But whereas Anna knows her feelings for Vronsky are wrong and feels much guilt for them, Karenin is less concerned with right and wrong and more concerned with appearances. If his wife is going to have improper relations with another man, she should at least have the courtesy to hide this. Anna struggles with her passion and the need to feel and live out her feelings, Karenin is willing to hide all feelings in order to maintain his status (really, he often doesn’t seem to have feelings, so hiding them should not be a problem).

I was surprised and impressed that after all the build up there was no seduction scene, description of the lovers succumbing to their passion. Merely a mention that time had passed, and that the relationship had been consummated. Because the book is not about the sex. It is about the passion, the buildup, and the consequences. In the first mention that they were now lovers, all we see is how miserable and desperate the affair has made Anna.

It does not get better as you read further: Anna reveals her pregnancy to Vronsky, Vronsky falls from his horse during a race and Anna cannot hide her distress from those in attendance, including her husband, and finally in a fit of rage & desperation she confesses the affair (but not the pregnancy). In response, all Karenin can say is that he expects her to keep up appearances. So even in confession, Anna still does not find the release she needs, and is expected to continue to live a lie.

I cannot help but wonder: if Karenin was able to express even a little of the care and concern for his wife that he admits to himself, might things have gone differently? This is really what attracts her to Vronsky, is it not?

KItty and Levin are still in the picture as well, though not so dramatically. At least not yet. Perhaps that is coming. Levin is back in the country, dealing with the humiliation of Kitty’s rejection by throwing himself into work on the farm. Kitty, having realised Vronsky never did love her, is thrown into a state of depression, makes herself ill, sees a series of doctors and is finally taken abroad.

While in Germany, under the influence of new friends, Kitty begins to learn there is more to life than balls, parties and pretty dresses, and resolves (as only a naïve young girl can do) to do more good, be a better person, etc.  As we know, no good deed goes unpunished – but I think overall, these are important learnings for Kitty which will shape who she becomes later in the novel.

I should perhaps have more to say about these two, but my interest in this part of the story was all about Anna and Vronsky.

Thoughts from other readers? I know many of you are behind. According to my Kobo, I am 30% through the book after 2 of 8 “parts” which leads me to conclude the rest of the sections will be shorter, quicker reads. So catching up should not be a problem.

Anna Karenina – Part 1

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Oh, the unhappiness. We start with chaos in the Oblonsky household, with Stiva’s affair with the governess having just been discovered by his wife Dolly. While presented like a central storyline, but by the end of Part 1 it becomes clear that is is instead a foreshadowing of larger marital stife and affairs to follow.

He went down trying not to look long at her, as though she were the sun, but he saw her, as one sees the sun, without looking.

Anna Karenina is well-known as a novel of romance and passion. But it is not a happy, shiny kind of romance. Levin is rebuffed in his proposal to Kitty. Kitty is in love with Vronsky – who is quite enamoured with her until he meets Anna. Anna is of course, married and off-limits, but this does not mean she does not enjoy his attentions (at this point in the story, his attentions are all she is enjoying).

But how marriages were made now, the princess could not learn from any one. The French fashion–of the parents arranging their children’s future–was not accepted; it was condemned. The English fashion of the complete independence of girls was also not accepted, and not possible in Russian society.

The Russian fashion of match-making by the offices of intermediate persons was for some reason considered unseemly; it was ridiculed by every one, and by the princess herself. But how girls were to be married, and how parents were to marry them, no one knew.

Set among the Russian nobility in the 1860s (I believe?) there are also deeper themes than love & romance: urban vs. rural living, aristocracy vs. peasantry, and the overarching questions of what it meant to be Russian. Our characters speak in French and English, read English books, and follow European traditions. Levin is the odd one out, leaving his post on district council and returning to a rural life in an attempt to discover his identity and purpose. The rest accept their society without question, happy with their elevated status and ignorant of or indifferent to the problems around them.

Considering she is the title character, at the end of Part 1, which my Kobo tells me is 14% of the novel, we know very little about Anna Karenina. A friend who recently read the book pointed out that the novel could easy have been named for at least one other character, so I was somewhat prepared for that.

I have thoughts on the character of Anna (intriguing and mysterious), Levin (the most ‘real’ so far) and Stiva (amusing but borderline contemptible) –  the others I don’t feel we know well enough yet to comment on – but would prefer to stop now and ask other readers what they think: Are you enjoying or annoyed by the characters? Is the story what you expected so far? Other thoughts?

Anna Karenina Read Along Update

Just a quick update post to remind you / encourage you to keep reading. I am eight chapters in, and off to read a few more before bed. Remember – the goal is to finish Part 1 by Monday. You have lots of time, in a happy coincidence, Monday is preceded by a weekend.