on April 26, 2009
If you click on the Kindle teaser on this page, it will take you to the Kindle order page, which shows a cover photo of this wonderful Lydia Davis translation in the Penguin series. However, if you order the Kindle edition, you will find to your great surprise that it is NOT the Davis/Penguin edition, but rather another one that is in the public domain.
Kindle routinely pulls this bait and switch act with translations and out of copyright classics. It's beneath Amazon and should stop now. I'd also feel pretty peeved if I were Lydia Davis or Penguin, upon whose reputations Kindle is trading rather inappropriately.
If a hard-text shopper ordered the Davis edition and were given something else instead, wouldn't that be a bait and switch? Amazon would never dream of doing that. Why, then, do they think it's acceptable with Kindle books?
on January 2, 2006
To read Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" is a pleasure and a challenge in the same proportion that any brave read can have. Not only is it a hard task, but also a very pleasant one. The books are written in such a way that readers are transported to another time and place, and get to know the characters as if they were old friends of ours. Of course, if it weren't like that, not many people would dare to try and read the seven novels that compound the whole series. But Proust is a master to keep your interested glued to his words. Even when this words are in a paragraph that lasts four pages.
"Swann's Way" is the first novel and it is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It is good because everything is new to us, so the `nameless' narrator takes his time to explain a lot of things, introduce people, describe places and the action is built up bit by bit. On the other hand, the reader is not used to Proust style and when we come across a paragraph that lasts four pages we get scared.
To make things more complicated, when he was writing "Remembrance of Things Past" Proust wanted to make a novel, but he also wanted to philosophize. Therefore, there is a lot of philosophy in his books. At first this device seems to be difficult to understand, to get the gist, but with time, one gets used to it, and is able to realize that we're not supposed to read this books in the same way we read any other novel.
Proust's work is about senses. He does not expect you to understand everything he is saying. His narrative is not cumulative. What he wants, in fact, is to make his reader feel what he was saying, to feel things like time passing through our lives and its effects on our memories. Bearing this in mind, any reader is able to focus on the poetic narrative and the author's idea rather than understanding the events.
Of course there is a plot in the book, but there are things that are more important to produce the effect Proust wanted. "Swann's Way" begins with the `nameless' narrator remembering experiences from his childhood in Combray. But the largest section of the novel is not about him, but about Swann, a friend of his family. Fifteen years before the events described in the first part, Swann felt in love with Odette, a woman with a terrible reputation. And this love affair will affect his life forever.
Despite Proust's language being evocative, it is not difficult to understand his sentences. His work is replete of references and allusions, mostly to visual arts, namely painting. Some descriptions are like the works of Monet and Botticelli. The writer also has interest in literature. The main character relationship to his mother echoes works as "Oedipus Rex".
Qualities like these make "Remembrance of Things Past" one of the most important works produced ever. With his caldron of references, ideas and images, Proust has created one of the most beloved works from the XX Century. It is certain that this series of books will be read for many many years to come, and will be seen as a definition of what we used to think.
on March 13, 2005
Lydia Davis's new translation of Swann's Way is splendid. I've reviewed it in more detail under the Amazon listing for the hardcover Viking edition, which is the one I own. These are books I intend to keep, and I want them in hardcover. If your needs are more transient, then by all means buy this paperback edition.
In Britain, this first volume is titled The Way By Swann's, and there are a few differences in the text. (French quotations remain in French; conversation is shown by dashes instead of quotation marks.) So it would appear that this Penguin paperback has the same text as the U.S. Viking hardcover and is not simply an import.
Note that if you should buy this volume from a Marketplace seller, you ought to note the ISBN and make very sure that the seller is offering the book as shown and not an earlier translation by Scott-Montcrief or others. Believe me, Davis's is the one you want!
-- Dan Ford
on February 20, 2007
Just as a general note with Proust translations, compare them in a bookstore before you buy any of them.
There is the original C.K. Scott Moncrieff translation, which is beautiful, though based on a flawed edition put together shortly after Proust's death (especially the later books in the set).
Then there is Terrence Kilmartin's revision, which is based on a much better French edition. You can still find editions of this used, and occasionally new as well. I prefer this one, as Kilmartin didn't change most of the truly beautiful language that Moncrieff rendered except in a few places to clarify confusing sentences.
D.J. Enright, who worked with Kilmartin, made further revisions after the latter's death, whose work (so he says) was incomplete. His reworking is based on yet an even newer edition of the French text, though with fewer changes than the previous French edition had from the original. I feel that Enright modernized the language too much. He claims French hasn't changed much as a language compared to English since the early 20th Century, so to approximate how it would read to a French person today, it needs to be put into more comtemporary language. I don't care for it personally.
I've read some of these other, altogether new translations, which is a good effort considering the potential for incoherence you might have reading a revision of a revision of a translation (whew!). They're not bad, but nowhere near as much of a "new standard" as, say, the Pevear-Volokhonsky translations of Dostoevsky, which give the reader a clearer original while still using beautiful and idiomatic English.
But back to Proust. Decide for yourself! Compare an old version of Moncrieff's translation to his revisors, and then check out these new ones published by Penguin.
And better yet, if you understand French at all, look at a French copy and just absorb the rhythm, the flow of the words, and find a translation that feels the same.
I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to people who hated foreign books in translation, only to find out they read a translation that reads like a textbook and not like something that was meant to be enjoyed!!
on August 30, 2007
I think people make too much of the 'difficulty' of Proust's writing, and I'm no over-educated super-literary snob, either (probably sufficiently proven in this sentence alone). Don't be scared off by the reviews claiming to have not been able to get through it. Sure you need to concentrate, hopefully without interruption, while reading Proust, but is that so bad? Isn't that a big part of what reading is all about?
Swann's Way is a rich and elegant tapestry, reflected nicely in the beautiful new cover design. It feels like a volume of pure thought of the first order - ruminative, peripatetic, placid, and somehow effortless and simple, despite the highly embroidered language. However, the language is not merely complex for complexity's sake, but to convey the intricacy of the thought therein, and, when combined with the gentle, steady pacing from which Proust never wavers, creates the feeling of wisdom itself unfolding on the page. It is a welcome antidote to the concoctions of the most "brilliant" contemporary authors being trumpeted today, that often leave you with nothing other than a fleeting amazement at the cleverness of the author.
After every reading session I felt richer and wiser, and more able to face the world with the same thoughtfulness that the narrator does (this doesn't mean that I was able to, mind you, just felt so). To me that's what reading is all about, and if that's wrong...then I don't wanna be right.
on February 24, 2006
When I first read this novel 35 years ago, I found a button in a head shop that read, "PROUST IS A YENTA." It's true. Proust is, underneath all the vivid and evocative prose, a fellow who loves to dish the dirt, and the more sordid the better.
Poor Swann! In love with a two-timing hussy who takes him for all he's worth and alienates all his haute-bourgeois friends in the process. Amazing the lengths Proust goes to to tell this simple tale! No metaphorical stone goes unturned (as it were), no perfervid phrase unused, no nuance of ratiocinated feeling unnoticed.
If you are a Proust neophyte, understand that single sentences sometimes go on for more than a page and that paragraphs often take multiple pages to unfold -- that every diamond has infinite facets and all are examined. Only late Henry James rivals Proust in the complexity of his sentence sructures which seek to eke out the essence of the quintessence of feelings.
The effete narrator (for truly he defines the word "effete") spends the first 150 pages of the novel dissecting nostalgia for his childhood. Only after these rarified ramblings does he deign to tell us poor Swann's story!
Well, no one reads Proust for the tales. Either you'll think he's the greatest stylist of any language ever, or you'll stop reading after the first page. You may need a large dose of Elmore Leonard after reading Proust just to cleanse the palate! Still, there's nothing quite like it.
on March 1, 2007
Before reading Lydia Davis's translation, I'd wandered half-way into Scott Moncrieff's original version before getting lost. I'd read a review of this edition by Christopher Hitchens, who faults Davis's prose in comparison to Moncrieff/Kilmartin's. I feel however, that Proust's sentence-construction is so complex that the modernized language is a tremendous asset. This is a fine introduction to Proust; it comes with an introductory essay, a complete set of notes (which is very much needed), and a brief synopsis at the back (which could actually be a little more thorough).
on June 4, 2007
Reading Proust is one of those things that simply should be done. Swann's Way is 400+ pages of almost unbelievable prose, a river, a torrent of words, phrases, paragraphs that sweeps you along through it seemingly without conscious effort or care to the all too quick end.
This book is simply staggering, I can't think of any other way to describe it or explain it. It simply must be read.
There is an old saying that everyone should see Paris before they die. The same sentiment is true for Proust - you should simply do it.
After I first read Remembrance of Things Past twelve years ago, I liked to tell people that everything I had ever known or experienced or felt was like a tiny mote of dust in the vast universe of Proust's imagination. For a long time, any new fact or idea would prompt me to say, "That's just like in Proust, when..."
Rereading it now, I don't love Swann's Way the way I did once. At some point, I grew up and out and in a different direction. I'm not so dazzled by the glamour, I'm more disturbed by the ugliness. But there was a time when Proust swallowed me whole, and I still recognize myself in the pages. The mark it left on me was that deep.
But what is Swann's Way? A coming of age story, maybe. It starts when our narrator is a young boy trying to make sense of the adult world. He's observant, sickly, pained by his own powerlessness. His transition into adulthood is interrupted by a synopsis or overture, a foreshadowing of things to come, when the book shifts away from him to the story of Charles Swann's obsessive love for a courtesan, Odette de Crecy.
But like all great books, the story is just the crust for the pie, the plate for the steak. Swann's Way is a book of inversions and perversions. It's a book where every flower and tree is anthropomorphized; every petal is made of silk, every garden a ballroom ("Lilac time was nearly over; a few, still, poured forth in tall mauve chandeliers the delicate bubbles of their flowers"). The built world is so drenched in emotion that every building, chair, and lamp comes alive, as seasonal and mutable as the flowers and trees. The natural and artificial collapse.
Of course, Remembrance of Things Past is a book about memory. Everybody knows that. But it's not just a book where the narrator, as an adult, dips a bit of spongy madeleine cookie into a cup of tea and the taste recalls memories of his youth with a startling, impossible clarity. That does happen, and Swann's Way is explicitly about memory in a lot of ways. But it's a text conjured from memory, every character a "transparent envelope" stuffed with memories, every tree alive, the whole world palpably made of the same stuff, cut from the cloth of the narrator's imagination.
There is no objectivity, ever. Yet the characters suffer when they fail to recognize their own subjectivity. Swann cannot see that his great love for Odette is, for her, a burdensome business arrangement. While Odette, venal, stupid, and coarse as she is, always has a canny sense of what drives other people, and how to get what she wants from them.
It's not a coincidence that a prostitute, for all her faults, sees so clearly. There's an economy, a commerce, of esteem here -- the Swann family's bourgeois respectability has great value in Combray, none in Paris. The Verdurins' clannishness invalidates other forms of social currency, making Swann's most valuable assets -- his aristocratic friends and good taste -- worthless. And Odette, who might otherwise covet the introductions that Swann can make for her, loses interest in all the duchesses and princesses in France when she loses interest in Swann.
I spent a lot of time, as I read, despising the characters and cherishing Proust's psychological insight. The narrator's feeble, anxious need for his mother's kiss is creepy. Swann's possessiveness, which evolves into outright abuse, is horrifying. Odette's shamelessness is awful. Swann's Way is full of brief, vicious character sketches and there aren't many characters to like, at the end of the day.
But even if they can't be liked, they can be understood -- and Proust traces every action, every repellant personality trait, to its source. He shows us how decisions are made, how people can be blind to their own worst faults, how hard it is to see ourselves as others see us, how self-destructive behaviors persist even after we've recognized the harm they do.
It's astonishing that in a book that overflows with gorgeous, glittering imagery, the real subject matter is so base. Our flaws, our failures, our weaknesses. Proust is sympathetic and cruel by turns -- but always thorough. I don't see how anyone could read this book and not come out of it understanding themselves, or other people, a little better.
on February 26, 2013
At last I have started a masterpiece which I have heard of all my life (I am 85) but hesitated to jump into. What a mistake to have delayed knowledge of this great work for so long. It is a beautiful and moving poem with great incite into the human condition.