A Confession isn’t a very cheery book, but that makes sense. Leo Tolstoy, author of such non-laugh-riots as War and Peace (which I have actually finished) and Anna Karenina (I had to listen to it on audio to get through it), wasn’t a very chipper man.
Confession is a slim autobiography in which Tolstoy discusses the collapse of his faith. Until I picked up this book I knew little about the man.
Much of the book is spent with Leo weighing the benefits of suicide (pretty much all upside) with the “vanity of continuing to live” (almost all downside).
The most fascinating bits of the book for me are when he discusses his dissatisfaction with his riches and the emptiness that persisted in his soul, despite having a loving family, fame, and an estate that expanded continually without much effort on his part.
He was adored by his peers and was able to indulge in any vices he chose. He lists lust, murder, violence, and alcohol as some indulgences that filled him with horror as he looked back on them, but he went unpunished.
Unless, of course, you count the torment in his heart and mind. I can’t go into too much more detail about such a quick read without revealing too much, but I will say that he regains his faith (sort of) and a type of peace of mind (sort of).
It is eventually through his observance of the peasants and common people that he eventually begins to see glimpses of hope; of what a “good” or “worthwhile” life might actually mean, versus the constant, empty pursuit of vain pleasures.
I also laughed out loud when he referred to the time while he was writing War and Peace as, to paraphrase, a time of useless, literary dabbling of the greatest triviality. Perhaps it would last after his death, perhaps not, but he certainly didn’t think it mattered at the time, if A Confession is to be believed.
An illuminating read about a guy who didn’t seem able to enjoy himself very well.
He sure could write, though, and this is as good as anything else he did, in my opinion.
Also, if he were still alive I suspect Mr. Tolstoy would have joined my book club. Just saying.