On the front of my copy of Doctor Zhivago, the catch-line is “One of the greatest love stories ever told.” This may well, in point of fact, be true. I don’t really care, though, and can’t say that I ever was all that interested in the passions that swept through the hearts of Yuri and Lara. Consider me a cold fish.
In the margins of page 412, I wrote that what “startles me so is that Lara seems plausible as a love interest only when Pasternak is describing Yuri writing about her. Here, as the two men who have loved her discuss her ‘special’-ness, while the writing is impressive, Lara’s worth doesn’t resonate.” What I like about Zhivago is what I like about Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, what I like about künstlerromans in general: an artistic need to consider the nature of the creative process, where art comes from, what it is to be an artist. I’m startled by the idea of the movie adaptation, and can’t imagine it being anything other than a love story, plain and simple, on the screen—and that seems to me to be an enormous loss from a book that is, to a large extent, a work of aesthetic philosophy.
The plot of the book, though, meanders so that I picked this book up and put it down far too often over the seemingly interminably many months in which I claimed to be reading it. Despite enjoying it, the book grated on me at times. Its pacing, its plotting, its tediousness were often frustrating. I remember reading someone describing reading Zhivago and starting to get cold from all the winter scenes; I never had that feeling of getting lost in it. The only time I came close was when I was camping, and reading beside a drop in the river: the roar of the water created one of the most pleasant juxtapositions of reading setting against the setting of what I was reading that I’ve ever encountered. It’s not a book that, while I read, I ever forgot that I was reading. I encountered moments of genius, and interesting ideas, and I’m glad that I did—but I don’t think I can echo the effusive praise on the dust jacket.