Beware, quite a few spoilers ahead and mentions of suicide may be triggering to some people. Read with caution.
I’m not sure how to begin with this one so I’ll just jump right in. For basic info about the book here’s a link to the goodreads books page here.
I picked this book up because I wanted a quick, refreshing, read. I have spent most of my free time over the past couple weeks catching up on my reading, writing, and watching, while seriously avoiding any weighty reads that I felt would draw any emotion other that happy satisfaction from me at the end. I found Anna K one day while searching through possible YA books to read online and was quickly pulled in by the gossip-girl-esque blurb. I had found what I was looking for! This would surely be a breezy romantic read centering on rich elite teens and an illicit love affair which would end in momentary misery but have an ultimately happy ending. This would be easy.
I was wrong.
Hint: This would not be the only time.
Being at first unfamiliar to the Tolstoy classic upon which this modern retelling is based, I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into. Furthermore, I stayed away from reviews of the book because I didn’t want to see any spoilers or read anything that might influence my own opinions.
Then, one night, while reading Anna K, I suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to go snooping into it’s source material. As I had no intention of reading the Tolstoy classic in it’s entirety right away, I found the Kiera Knightly movie adaptation on Netflix and devoted the next few hours to watching the movie, pointing out all the character equivalents I had already met, and enjoying the dramatic interpretation. Here was my thought process at the beginning of the movie: This movie is a romance about an illicit love affair (how many times have I used this phrase already?) which would end in momentary misery, but have an ultimately happy ending.
I was wrong.
Any one who is familiar with Anna Karenina knows this is not the case.
I was shocked at the ending. As I mentioned, my sanity really has depended on my ability to find and read books that trigger only the happiest of emotions and watching the Anna Karenina movie made me realise that Anna K would do no such thing. It took me a little while to figure out if I wanted to dump this book in favour of something with “beach” or “wedding” in the title but I managed to convince myself that as this was a “modern” retelling of Anna Karenina and not Anna Karenina itself, surely the author would take some liberties while portraying this story and give me the happy ending I deserved.
Again, I was wrong. (I told you that first time would not be the only time.)
Anna K is a retelling of Anna Karenina set in the world of the rich and elite teenagers in present-day New York City. The book is filled with themes of partying, habitual drug use, and on and off page deaths (animals and humans alike). It jumps back and forth through the point of views of different characters in the book and manages to weave in different story lines without ever seeming too scatterbrained. At first, I admit, I wondered what the need for the ever changing POV’s was and worried that it would take away from what I thought to be the “main” story between Anna and Vronsky.
I was wrong.
Okay, okay, I promise I’ll stop counting my “wrongness” now.
Jenny Lee did a wonderful job portraying all the different characters and their POVs. Besides, this story is by no means about only Anna and Vronsky. Each character in the book has their own story and Lee manages to portray even the characters with the shortest “screen time” in such a relatable way that they become less of the cliché side characters whose sole purpose is to support the main characters, and more of main characters themselves, with their own story and their own goals. Also, It was beautiful to see that although Anna’s story ended tragically, the people around her seemed to find their own somewhat happy endings.
Reading Anna K was like building a fire. In the beginning all you have are a couple sparks but then you blow on it and the next thing you know there’s a raging inferno in front of you.
I knew it would end with someone dead but I couldn’t help but hold out hope till the very end.
I know this might be a bit controversial to say but the fact that it wasn’t a suicide made it even more heart-wrenching. In the Tolstoy novel, Anna, after her affair leaves her reputation in shreds, throws herself in front of a train and dies. In Anna K, Vronsky dies while saving Anna and a homeless man’s dog from an oncoming train. Vronsky’s death happened so suddenly that I had to stop for a moment because I didn’t quite know how to keep reading. I was furious, the whole thing seemed so preventable, so unreal. But Lee doesn’t give the reader much time to dwell on the possible “what ifs” as the story immediately continues to Vronsky’s funeral. It was a clear message. Vronsky was dead and no amount of page flipping would bring him back again. I think that’s how you know a good book. When the author manages to pull such sudden emotions from you that you really start to wonder whether or not it is possible to petition for a rewrite.
Thing is, I didn’t necessarily like Vronsky, he was a flawed character with most of his redeemable qualities limited to his love for Anna and perhaps his cousin Beatrice. I think the thing that made me so worked up over him dying was the loss of the beautiful love story that would have continued if he hadn’t, the full stop to a character whose life after the book I would have been delighted to imagine.
The problem with rewriting Anna Karenina is that times have changed drastically. Yes, sexism is still rampant these days but unlike the time in which Tolstoy sets his classic, where Anna is unable to get away from being a social pariah, in modern New York, Vronksy and Anna could have had a happy ending. In a way that is what hurts me the most, the fact that they could have been fine. Yes, it would have taken no small amount of time but they could have been fine, and still one of them had to die.
In a way when Anna (Anna K) decides to kill herself I am okay with it. I think this allows me to assume that in the end Anna and Vronsky would be together. I almost smile at the thought, almost write this off as a great happy ending. How terribly twisted of me.
Don’t worry, I snap out of it.
I guess It is easier to think of death as a resolution when you’re reading a story, but that is not true in real life. Anna is only 17, she has her whole life ahead of her. Yes, I assume the death of a true love might feel like the end of everything but it’s not. In the end Anna chooses life, and I am glad for it.
Regarding the book itself, I feel a mix of sadness, annoyance, and fleeting okay-ness. This is the exact assorted candy mix of emotions I wanted to stay away from.
Thanks a lot Jenny Lee for tricking me into reading this much-more-than-just A Love Story. (I promise this was only slightly sarcastic. I am genuinely glad to have read this although I will sulk about it for the next few days. Ah well, c’est la vie I guess)