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War and Peace and Why I Missed the Final Episode

08/02/2016 14:45 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Did it end in War or in Peace? I have no idea because I have 1,140 pages to go (Oxford World's Classics edition) and I need to avoid all news reviews, chat shows, social media and possibly everyone for the next few months until I've finished.

Having received the classic Tolstoy epic as a gift for Christmas on the off chance I might find time to read it over the holidays before the much anticipated BBC adaptation aired, I was only moved to actually pick up the book after watching the development of events in the penultimate episode last week. That's the one where Prince Andrei seems to forgive the incorrigible Anatole Kuragin (whose leg has just been severed after the battle) for lusting after his fiancée Natasha. My piqued interest forced me to find the time...

Now I cannot put it down and am wondering for how long the rest of life can be put on hold until me and the concluding events have found each other out. The novel is an unmanageable weight to take along with you anywhere or on the Tube, hard to hold in bed or bath, and would best require a term of convalescence for something like chicken pox or a broken leg. Nevertheless, believe me it is worth the time, or any time. There's time for box sets, cinema and TV adaptations, but time to sit still? That you have to want to find. And yet.... I am drawn in by the drama, the characters, the depth, the detail and "the intellect and imagination that are fired by reading", so accurately said by Sunday Telegraph journalist and author, Harry Mount, who concluded that "TV can never do justice to Tolstoy's greatest work". Quite.

Which begs the question, can any film or television production ever "do justice" to the telling of any great story or life? It's not even a question. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the greatest films ever made; reading the novel, a whole other experience not to be missed. For this reason, in times past when videos had only just gained popularity in the classroom, as teachers of English Literature our mantra always was: Read the Book First. Not a popular injunction with students for whom Film plus Cliffs Notes equalled passable essay.

But now for the next 1000 pages in my mind's eye, Natasha, who is thirteen years old in the novel and "not pretty but full of life", will always look like Lily James! Admittedly this is not a bad image, but limiting, nevertheless. The purpose of film adaptations is not to stimulate the intellect and the imagination the way a good story does.....but maybe it will stimulate us to sit down and read a good book. "Had we but world enough and time..." Sit. Quiet. Read. Breathe. How civilized.

Reading the book second is better than not at all.

I'm glad I found the time.