Leo Tolstoy & Nick Hornby

I was going to title this Tolstoy versus Hornby, but that’s not what I mean.

Having recently finished Anna Karenina I picked out of my bedside stack a Christmas present (at least two years old) of Nick Hornby’s Juliet Naked. I had started it once before, but as the subject matter appeared to be the insane fan worship of a has-been rock star – not exactly central to my interests – it got queue-jumped.

I hesitate to admit it, but my enjoyment of my in-bed morning reading has now risen sharply. Hornby’s language is a chuckling delight. For instance, the fan and the colleague he has inadvertently started sleeping/living with arrive at work together: “Gina kissed him goodbye, on the lips, and squeezed his bottom playfully while colleagues watched, stupefied with excitement.”

Of course, Hornby is a lighter read than a Russian classic. Tolstoy’s people and the period are distant, and his use of language may well have lost some of its verve in translation. Also, while I was reading Anna Karenina, I did enjoy it, but there is relief in finding a character springing off the page in a sentence or two, and of internal monologues that make me smile in recognition (and don’t last for five pages).

With Anna Karenina there is a vast and satisfying depth to the characters, but so little humour and how much I miss it (and how difficult I find that in my own writing). It is difficult to love a character if you don’t get to smile while reading about them.