Today I’m going to briefly review Leo Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich‘. Why? Well, I found it to be a really poignant tale that was insightful, eye-opening, and allowed me to think critically about my novels for the first time in a while.
I enjoyed the mundanity that other reviewers found irritating. The contrast between a normal life taken for granted and a crippling illness that forces reflection. It was a short book, but it took me a really long time to finish. Partly because I wanted to pay attention to what was being written, but also because it was quite dry. There was very little ‘climax’ to the story, and by the end pretty much every character resented the main character. Hell, even I resented the main character a bit for dragging on and on. It was meant to be an important tale of the agony of a terminal illness in a time where there’s no cure, or any reasonable pain relief, and the frailty of human existence. However, what I took from it was a brief look into daily life of those characters, and how a person’s outlook can colour their entire capacity for happiness.
I found this theme running similarly throughout Boris Pasternak’s ‘Doctor Zhivago‘, as despite the objectively awful things that occur to people, certain individuals were able to persevere. Part of their perseverance was due to a reserved amount of optimism sheltered from the horrors of war and violence, as well as a good head for sound decisions. Knowing when to stay, and when to flee, was vital to a person’s survival as much as a personal reservoir of hope and appreciation of simple pleasures. The characters who survived until the end of each novel were by no means ‘exuberant’, but they held within themselves a quiet satisfaction with the world that others had replaced with despair.
It’s a good read if you haven’t critiqued a novel in a while. Find something to like, and something you would want improved, and start with this short introduction to Russian novels. Even if you finish the book and walk away relatively unsatisfied, at least you can tell all your friends that you read a fancy European novel and disliked it on creative grounds. I would read these again if I had the time, to see if I could glean any further meaning from their pages, but for now I’ll focus on my Thesis as much as I can.