Few things give me as much pleasure as cracking open a fresh new Canadian publication and settling down for a good, Canadian read. Preferably with a steaming mug of maple syrup by my side, of course. This week, however, I had the urge to stray from my passion for CanCon and re-read one of my favourite Russian novels, Anna Karenina.
I don’t think I’m going to be breaking new ground here by declaring Anna Karenina to be a brilliant book. Leo Tolstoy’s novel has been described as “the best ever written” by William Faulkner, and I’d be hard-pressed to argue with that statement.
A mere synopsis of the plot just won’t capture what I love about it. For readers who haven’t experienced Tolstoy’s writing, the tragic story of an adulterous aristocratic woman may sound like old hat. The other primary plot about Levin, a landowner struggling with new farming systems and the question of how to live his life, may also not sound like the most riveting material. Tolstoy’s gift is his ability to perfectly convey the inner workings of his characters. Anna and Levin are two of the most realistic, conflicted, and paradoxical characters I’ve ever encountered. I also enjoy reading about the intricacies of Russian society, politics, and philosophy, though the motivations of the characters are so realistic that I think the novel maintains a timeless appeal.
I recently attended a screening of the new Anna Karenina film that’s being released this week. I was very curious to see how the filmmakers would turn this complex, and oh-so-long novel into a feature film.
The filmmakers have produced a very interesting version of Anna Karenina. They’ve chosen to have the action that takes place in urban settings occur within a large theatre, complete with rapid set changes and characters freely wandering through the wings and catwalks. I found this presentation jarring at first, but came to appreciate the visual appeal it created and how it mirrors the theatricality of the society Anna has such trouble conforming to.
Tom Stoppard’s screenplay efficiently condensed the lengthy text, without losing the core of story. A great deal of Levin’s philosophical struggles were eliminated, and—as is often the case with book-to-screen adaptations—a lot of the character development wasn’t fully explored on screen. Fortunately, the actors’ performances were quite good. I was particularly impressed with Jude Law’s portrayal of Anna’s husband, Karenin. It would have been so easy to simplify and vilify Karenin, but in my opinion Law successfully conveyed his complexities.
I have to say, it’s a relief to find that I enjoyed seeing a film version of one of my favourite books!
Have any of your favourite books been adapted to film? What did you think of the result?
Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win* a copy of Anna Karenina, the best [non-Canadian] novel ever written.**
*Prizes must be picked up from The Word On The Street’s office, located at 67 Mowat Ave., Suite 242, Toronto. Winners will be notified in the comments section of this blog post on Monday, December 3rd, 2012.
**According to me and Faulkner.