Sometimes, I find myself stalked by certain books. No matter how I attempt to evade them, they follow me around, enticingly overlapping with my other reading and everyday life until it is impossible to ignore them.
Over the past few weeks, War and Peace (a novel I dearly love) has been creeping stealthily into my life.
It started naturally enough. One cold and rainy Sunday afternoon (and there have been plenty of those to choose from these last few months), I picked up my copy, read for an hour or so, and then happily put it back on the shelf and went on my merry way.
But it was not done with me. Not even close.
A short while later, I was reading Eva Ibbotson’s A Company of Swans, set in 1912, and the War and Peace references were plentiful. Our heroine, the daughter of a Cambridge professor, joins a touring Russian ballet company about to embark on a trip to Brazil. Her name, Harriet, being deemed not Russian enough for the ballet, she is given the stage name Natasha since, as one of the other characters observed, she has ears just like Tolstoy’s heroine. Harriet is entirely delighted by her new name but not entirely delighted by all of Tolstoy’s characters:
‘I used…oh, to be Natasha, for years and years. It made me so angry with Prince Andrei.’
‘Angry!’ Dubrov glared at her. ‘What are you saying? Prince Andrei is the finest portrayal of goodness in our entire literature.’
‘Goodness? How can it be good to get someone so ready for love and for life…so absolutely ready – and then just go away and leave them? Like setting them some kind of good conduct exam!’
Speaking of that “good conduct exam”, there is in fact an entire Broadway musical about it. “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is all about Natasha’s brief and disastrous infatuation with Anatole and is playing right now on Broadway. It’s definitely not a traditional musical (so much more electronica than I can handle – which is to say more than none) but it’s a fun one. I’ve been listening the cast recording for a while and I’d certainly love to see this current production.
To cap it all off, the Spring 2017 edition of Slightly Foxed edition arrived and, no surprise, my favourite piece in it was “Moments of Truth” by Christopher Rush, in which he muses about War and Peace.
And there you have it. I cannot seem to get away from War and Peace but, then again, if I had to pick a novel to haunt my days, I’m not sure I would chose any differently.