The NAB Blog

Washington calling…

By Nicolas Soames

18 February 2007

Oh yeah. The classics. Read War and Peace? You must be joking.

It is rated one of the finest novels in the world. Check. It can be found on many bookshelves. Check. But have you ever seen anyone reading it on the bus or the tube? Check.

OK – pan to my life. Of course, I have one of the most rewarding jobs in publishing. The gods were kind to me. BUT it has its challenges. The last few months have produced metres of CDs. Unabridged Bleak House, a wonder from Teresa and Sean. Unabridged Persuasion. Unabridged Paradise Lost. Unabridged The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

And unabridged War and Peace.

And while all that is going on, we are deep in other major classics – more unabridged Dickens, unabridged Flann O’Brien, unabridged Homer and even more.

So where is the time for War and Peace? The other day, Neville Jason, he of Proust and Tolstoy, flew stateside to be interviewed by The Washington Post. David Segal treated him royally, and then had a chat with me. And there came the question I knew was coming. I couldn’t lie, because it was Washington. I couldn’t prevaricate or dissemble… I could only say, I am only halfway through.

But it is not a chore. It may be a tad unsociable, but Tolstoy and Neville are captivating. Here is a grand story, with intense Russian emotions entangled with the massive movements of troops and the process of history in the making. Prince Andrei, so intrinsically noble but harshly affected by the lack of integrity around him; Pierre, an intrinsically good man but fashioned by foibles we all recognise so vividly; and Natasha – young, impressionable, but knowing when she has made a mistake; virgin Princess Marya, serving her irascible father Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky through all the pain he throws at her because she knows he loves her; Emperor Alexander, out of his depth when faced with the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte. And, flying above them all, the comet of 1812.

Tolstoy, himself a difficult man, was a remarkable observer. War and Peace is such a remarkable novel because it is so true, so accurate where human thoughts and actions are concerned. That’s one major reason why I simply can’t turn to anything else at the moment.

Neville Jason will, himself, probably never know how he read it, how he presented all those characters so individually, while maintaining the voice of Tolstoy himself. It is a marvel, and I can say that without immodesty because it happens to be on Naxos AudioBooks.

If you haven’t read it but want to know it, now’s your chance. If you have read it, years ago, and want to revisit it, now’s your chance. I exhort you. It is full of charm, seduction, wisdom and history. Certainly, one of the greatest monuments of our literary heritage.

And how would it have been possible without my Nano!

Nicolas Soames

See also: War and Peace – unabridged.

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