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Swann's Way Hardcover – September 15, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Relax: it's fantastic. There's no question that Davis's American English is thinner and more literal than C.K. Scott Montcrieff's archaically inflected turns of phrase and idioms, at least as revised by Terence Kilmartin and later by D.J. Enright. The removal of some of the familiar layers of the past in this all-new translation gives one a feeling similar to that of encountering an old master painting that has just been cleaned: the colors seem sharper and momentarily disorienting. Yet many readers will find it exhilarating, allowing the text to shed slight airs that were not quite Proust's and making many of the jokes much more immediate (as when he implies that sense-organ atrophy in the bourgeois is a defense mechanism and the result of hardening unarticulated feelings). As accomplished translator and novelist Davis (The End of the Story) notes in her foreword, she has followed Proust's sentence structure as closely as possible "in its every aspect," including punctuation, word order and word choice. To take just one case, where Montcrieff/Kilmartin describe Mlle. Vinteuil finding it pleasant to metaphorically "sojourn" in sadism, Davis has the much more definitive "emigrate." Proust's psychological inquiry generally feels much sharper, giving a much more palpable sense of Freud and Bergson-and of the young Marcel's willful (if not malefic) manipulations of those around him. For first-timers who don't have French and are allergic to the slightest whiff of euphemism, this is the best means for traveling the way by Swann's.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Lydia Davis was awarded the 2003 French-American Foundation Translation Prize for her translation of Marcel Proust���s Swann's Way and was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government for her fiction and her translations of such modern writers as Maurice Blanchot and Michel Leiris. She is the author of one novel, The End of the Story, and several volumes of stories, including Varieties of Disturbance, a National Book Award Finalist, and Can���t and Won���t, a New York Times bestseller. In 2009 her stories were brought together in one volume, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, which was called ���a grand cumulative achievement��� and ���one of the great, strange American literary contributions��� by James Wood in The New Yorker and ���one of the great books in recent literature��� by Dan Chiasson in The New York Review of Books. A MacArthur Fellow, Davis lives near Albany, New York.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (September 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067003245X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032457
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gunther on November 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Those of us who love Proust - either from long acquaintance, or from reading him for the very first time - can count ourselves fortunate in now having two very fine English translations to work from: the classic Moncrieff/Kilmartin rendition of the complete novel, and the new Lydia Davis translation of "Swann's Way." I've read and enjoyed both, because each brings something special and valuable to the work.
Davis is a breath of fresh air, being more literal (while still literary!) in that she follows the original French syntax and meaning more closely. I liked her translation, and applaud it. Normally, such a fine translation would be my first choice. However - and I admit this is a very subjective judgement - I was long ago seduced by the sheer beauty of Moncrieff/Kilmartin, and therefore cannot love the Davis translation quite so much. Of all authors, Proust requires us to surrender to the beauty of his language. Davis' translation is, for me, more likeable than loveable.
Really, it's an old (and impossible to resolve!) conflict between the more literal and the more "poetic" type of translation. I've dealt with this myself, in trying to translate Baudelaire, and there's no perfect answer. One thing I'd suggest (if you haven't read MK) is to get the MK translation of Swann's Way, now available in a very inexpensive paperback, along with Davis so that you can get a feel for both ways of appreciating Proust's great and magnificent work.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Damian Kelleher on October 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
With the famous dipping of the madeleine into his tea, Proust begins his fictional/auto-biographical journey through memory and time, alternately seeing his world through the eyes of a younger, more innocent Proust and the weary old man he has become. Random comments on people or places morph into paragraph- and page-long memories, coloured with the rosy tint of time and age, or not, as sometimes is the case. Throughout the novel we are generally confined to the time period of Proust's childhood, but the narrator is very loose with the time frame, effortlessly jumping back and forth through the memories of his boyhood, from the thrill of a mother's kiss to the beauty of flowers and grass along the way by Swann's.

The writing is flowery and beautiful, with long, flowing sentences that seem to evoke places and times buried within us all. Proust is a master of mental imagery, and through the mostly universal experience of his childhood - and while the particulars will not be identical for us all, the thoughts and ideas certainly will - we are able to relive our own childhood, our own desires and dreams, our own gradual awakening and loss of innocence.

While reading Proust, there is a sense that we have settled ourselves within his skin. The writing is so personal and intimate that we, for just a moment, become the little boy Proust, we share his feelings, we understand his pains. This can be uncomfortable at times, but the pleasure of such an intense journey far outweighs the 'warts and all' intimacy. While reading, it seems that nothing - not one thought or feeling - has been held back, and that Proust is willing and almost joyous at the prospect of baring his soul to the world in his six book masterpiece.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By J. W. Matthews on April 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I admit that Proust is not for everyone. I admit that some of Proust's sentences, paragraphs, and even pages are inscrutable (and not genius, but self-indulgent rambling). I admit that Proust was not familiar with the term "plot."

But one cannot shake the feeling that In Search of Lost Time (beginning with this great translation of Swann's Way) is the ultimate written work about what it means to live. Existence iself, in all its forms (time, love, beauty, self, and the other) is the subject Proust holds forth on.

If you love great books, and have spent years isolating what it is at the very essence that makes you love and remember a novel, Swann's Way is for you. It will reward you if you fight through the times you feel like putting it down.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Randy Kirkpatrick on January 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Obviously, Swann's Way is a classic piece of literature, one of the most vital works of fiction of the 20th Century. The prose, whether in the original French or in the beautifully translated English, is lush, evocative and deliriously prolix--from the moment the narrator takes a bite of that famous pastry, the reader is swept up into a world so tangibly realized and, at the same time, so hallucinatory in its lushness that he or she cannot fail to be drawn in, quite despite the fact that there's not much of a "plot" to carry the thing along. Instead, we are given intimate access to the minds of Swann, Odette and Proust himself and they are unbelievably fascinating people--so complex, so "real" that one is actually quite sorry when the book ends. Which brings me to my main point: Don't stop here. If Swann's Way is the most famous volume in the monumental "In Search of Lost Time" series, it is not necessarily the best. It is, in fact, something of an extended prologue to the later books, gracefully and movingly setting the scene for the far more dramatic twists and turns that will culminate in the mind-blowing final volume "Time Regained." While Swann's Way is a most compelling and satisfying read on its own, you'll miss out on so much beauty, drama and passion if you don't follow up and read through the full series, rich as it is with intrigue, consuming love, staggering insights into the human mind and outright entertainment value. So, Swann's Way is a must read, but one has to come to it realizing that the end of the novel is only the beginning of Proust's enormous, all-consuming magnum opus. No one will tell you that committing to Proust's fictional world is a slight undertaking, but it is a deeply rewarding one and a required one for all serious readers.
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