A far cry in length from War & Peace but nonetheless this little novella packs quite the punch. On a train journey, passengers begin to gossip about a story they’ve heard of a man killing his wife. Much to their horror, he turns out to be in their very compartment and begins to tell his tale.
The novel is told in very short chapters and, for added irony, I listened to this as an audio book read by a husband and wife team on Librivox.org.
Tolstoy uses the novel to convey his strong opinions on immorality and marriage. It was his firm conviction that society’s tolerance of profligate male youth was wrong, particularly as it hypocritically frowned on any woman who dared to take lovers. He felt that women were victims of this immorality both before marriage and then within it.
The narrator tells of how his crime has led him to a clear view of what
he now realises was the deplorable behaviour of his youth. Once married, his immorality is barely checked and his relationship with his wife sours over the years. Finally, he is consumed with jealousy over what he suspects is an affair she is having with a violinist. The eponymous Sonata is a piece of music they make together. In a fit of rage, he kills her.
There are no real spoilers here. The narrator is pretty up front and honest from the start and the story is easy to follow as the tension builds to the inevitable crime. I liked the vehicle that Tolstoy uses for this bold attack on immorality and, as should be the case with a classic, there is much here that is still relevant today. This would make an excellent read for a book club because it is short, engaging and raises plenty of questions worth discussing.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style
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