Two stars, read in September 2017.
Will possibly downgrade to one star after I think more about it.
This was not an enjoyable experience and upon finishing, I felt like I should apologize to myself for forcing me through the whole thing. One thousand pages of farming, 19th-century Russian politics, and petty, jealous, self-absorbed characters who create and exacerbate their own problems by being petty, jealous, and self-absorbed. I disliked them all, including Anna, and I don’t even know why the book bears her name as she plays no more significant a role than anyone else. Last night I found a text I’d sent myself toward the beginning, summarizing my thoughts at that point:
Levin looks on himself with reverence. Anna is melodramatic and not very kind. Karenin is a religious/societal convention fanatic. I don’t know yet what Vronsky is but I’m sure it’s not very admirable. Dolly’s story is just sad. Don’t know about Kitty yet, she shows promise.
I love the classics, as a group. I’ve read many of them, I own many of them, and I have always planned to continue reading them throughout my life. But there are some whose importance completely escapes me, and this is one of them. I genuinely have no idea what people are getting out of this book. Anna is so irrational and self-absorbed I actually wonder if she’s meant to have a mental illness, like bipolar disorder. Levin is an intensely thoughtful person, but not very self-aware for all his introspection, fairly obtuse, and judgmental and self-righteous in the way Christians tend to be (especially in more recent centuries). All the other characters are just variations on these themes, to different degrees and with insignificant results. None of them learn anything or grow; in the entire book, only a few things happen, and everything else is tedious filler. If I hadn’t been listening to the audio, on 1.4x normal speed and with work to occupy my hands while I listened, I would have thrown it across the room and never finished.