I found the philosophy at the end confusing. Tolstoy spends the whole book showing what war really is, how it is just the sum of thousands of decisions, psychology and the flaws of men. He lets you see all the moving parts, how they interconnect and how the fuel themselves like some gruesome perpetual motion machine. But then the last fifty pages try and prove this very same point with logic. It says ‘this is what war is, what history really is, and all the historians, they just don’t understand it like I do’. My confusion is this. Why, when you have spent over twelve hundred pages profoundly illustrating the complexity of war, would you feel the need to prove, using logic, anything more on this topic in the last forty?
Just a few final thoughts a propos this epic behemoth. I think W&P might be a great book to read twice. The war - the main character in this book - has a fate that we all know is predetermined. I think it would be interesting reading the book again to level the playing field - that way you would know where the characters are going to end up too. It strikes me that this book would seem especially profound with the knowledge of destiny. The significant moments in the development of the many characters would become significant and prophetic. I want to see the characters' lives march round and round in some Nietzschen circle of recurrence - like the war they fight in - unfailingly drawn towards the same end.
The book’s lack of narrative structure is really quite outlandish. ‘Like real life’, I’m sure a lot of critics say. But it lacks even a gentle character-driven soap-opera style plotting. The characters stories are non-existent and certainly not resolved. Andrei dies before he and Natasha have spoken about their love, before he had become a complete human. We don’t find out what happens to his son. Pierre marries Natasha, but has ideas about how to change the world. We don’t see them fulfilled, and we don’t see him reach his potential either. It is vital to understanding W&P that the two wars - but in particular the second - are the narrative structure. To tell Tolstoy's truth of them - explaining Russia’s ‘victory’ in the final campaign - is the overwhelming purpose and intent of the book. And the two real characters in this novel are the many-headed hydra of the French and Russian armies.
War and Peace is too much of a book to even attempt to sum up, and it does not easily yield to being broken into bight-size chunks. In fact, I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is at all - only that is is. And for that, it must be read.
PS - I read the version translated by Volokhonsky and Pevear as I think it is most faithful to the original text. It retains the French and provides a translation in the footnotes. I found this slightly hard work during the opening part of the book which is French heavy (I had to keep looking down and then up) but overall I think it was a good trade off.
See also: Part 1, Part 2