The fat black Penguin edition of Anna Karenina was the only novel I could squeeze into my very small suitcase. But it was trashed to start off with as a trifling romance of high life. It's orchestral, symphonic, full of distinctive melodies, parallels and variations that keep reappearing, some of which we notice, none of which we need to notice in order for them to operate on our subconscious. I thought the story was romantic, passionate, wonderful. Julie Myerson, author of Then In when I was 18, I left Nottingham having only ever been abroad once to spend a year as an au pair in Florence. Each time, perhaps because I'm older and have experienced more, I find things I never noticed before. And Tolstoy obviously knew all the upper classes backwards, because he was a member of them and moved in those circles. It was written as a serial and that makes it so incredibly readable because of the cliffhangers — you desperately want to get on and start the next bit.
Levin's concern in whether to live in the town or the country was something I could completely relate to; I was at university and enjoying all the liveliness and intellectual life that Cambridge had to offer, but I loved going back to remote Scotland. I thought the story was romantic, passionate, wonderful. Julie Myerson, author of Then In when I was 18, I left Nottingham having only ever been abroad once to spend a year as an au pair in Florence. I'd grown up in provincial Scotland, a long way from the centre of things. Vronsky is a cad, but he's quite silly as well, which is endearing. It was like finding an east Asian Zen koan buried in the heart of a 19th-century Russian aristocrat's opus. I try to re-read it every few years. That's the more terrible aspect of the story — Anna's brother shags the nanny and immediately he's forgiven by the wife and nobody minds at all, and Vronsky goes back into society and everybody goes, "Whoops, oh well, never mind! Weird little pockets of late-Edwardian Scotland survived into the s — I even knew a few people who had been brought up by governesses — so Tolstoy's Russia was not an unfamiliar world to me. I bet they're kicking themselves, those critics. I remember reading the crazy farming scenes, where Levin is doing repetitive work with the peasants in the field, and thinking, "What's going on here? And that room in Florence — lonely, romantic and exhilarating all at the same time — seemed somehow irrevocably tangled up with every word Tolstoy had written. And Tolstoy obviously knew all the upper classes backwards, because he was a member of them and moved in those circles. The novel, with its vast panorama of heady, complex and tragic adult emotions — Anna's aching passion, but also the touching arc of Levin and Kitty's love, and even Dolly's chaotic, overburdened domesticity — seemed to encompass everything that lay ahead of me in life. But it was trashed to start off with as a trifling romance of high life. But how can you despise someone who politely poses the question: At first glance it seemed like a very conservative interpretation of what a novel could be, but in fact Tolstoy was making some remarkably avant-garde and exciting moves as a writer — there is a wonderful chapter or two when you see the goings-on from the point of view of Levin's dog. Olivia has found the success and recognition she yearned for, and Ethan is totally committed to being a serious writer. But she can't cope with Vronsky at all. Anna is a wonderful character. It must have shocked people, though — there's lots of sex. Jilly Cooper, author of Jump! Not only is it a great source of pleasure, but I inevitably feel as if I'm getting a sort of pep talk from Tolstoy: Opened July 30, In a too-neat reversal of fortune, the couple has gone through some radical changes. At the end, she keeps trying to attract young men to make Vronsky jealous — Tolstoy's very good on jealousy.
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