79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Begin with Swann's Way, go from there
Proust's great novel does not need to be read all at one time. I read it one volume at a time and usually took six months to a year off between volumes. I was always able to pick up right where I left off with nothing lost, like visiting old friends. I think it is OK to think of Remembrance of Things Past as a series of novels. I know Proust would disagree with this...
Published on July 6, 2004 by J. Wombacher
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Small font edition
This is not a review of Proust's great novel, or of the excellent translations. It's a comment on the quality of the paperback. I read the first four volumes of this Christopher Prendergast-edited series in the hardcover VIKING USA editions, and they were very nicely done. Acid-free paper, 12-point, readable font. My understanding is that Viking can not produce the...
Published on February 23, 2008 by John Dow
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79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Begin with Swann's Way, go from there,
Proust's great novel does not need to be read all at one time. I read it one volume at a time and usually took six months to a year off between volumes. I was always able to pick up right where I left off with nothing lost, like visiting old friends. I think it is OK to think of Remembrance of Things Past as a series of novels. I know Proust would disagree with this. It was very important to him that his readers consider carefully the unifying theme and symmetry to which he aspired in the novel, but I think that aspect became less and less tangible as his manuscript grew from 1000 pages originally to 2000, and then from 2000 to the 4000 odd pages it ended up being (he continued to expand the manuscript right up until the time of his death). In any event, the grand theme he designed will not be lost on you if you stay with the novel until the end and it is wonderful when you consider it, but it is not the reason I love the novel so well. Swann's Way, Within a Budding Grove, and The Guermantes Way are decisively the best volumes and, fortunately, they are the first three in that order. If you like Swann's Way but are intimidated by the gargantuan size of the entire series, then plan to read at least the first three volumes. In this way you will have experienced Proust's best material. The entire novel is essentially a fictional autobiography or memoir. It is narrated by a man whose name we are never given, although he does hypothetically suggest the name "Marcel" for himself on one occasion about three-fourths of the way through. The story is inspired by events and people from Proust's life, but it is strictly a fiction. Swann's Way is the only volume in which the narrator is not the central figure in the story. It is, ultimately, a conventional story with several fascinating characters and humorous, razor sharp dialogue. There are several recurring, ingeniously depicted themes in the novel, not the least of which is involuntary memory, and it often reads like a deeply philosophical essay, with Proust wandering off on one of his famous digressions. The philosophical digressions are the best part for me, but I could see why they could be distracting or tedious to some. Proust's sentences quite frequently stretch to 10, 20, or even 30 lines, with multiple subordinating clauses. It can be dizzying. Some have claimed that this makes him a stream-of-consciousness writer. I flat out reject this notion. It is never, ever pretentious or unnecessarily wordy. Literary historians love to bracket Proust in the same category as Joyce (like art historians like to couple, for example, Van Gough and Gauguin), but the two writers are as different as night and day. Every sentence is worth the time in Proust, there are no word games, there is no obscurity, and it is all essential and rewarding. The only complaint I have is that he spends too much time on the theme of jealousy in the later volumes, a theme he covered quite well in Swann's way. Those volumes are worth reading too, but they have a tendency to drag out in a way that the first three volumes don't. Things do pick up a bit with the final volume, Time Regained, where everything comes full circle.
182 of 193 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will change your life,
"A la recherche du temps perdu" is not simply a book - it is an experience in time-travel. I read the first two volumes at the age of 22, and was overwhelmed by the density, complexity, and beauty of Proust's style (magnificent even in translation), but I could not appreciate the book's deeper emotional resonances because I had not lived long enough or loved intensely enough. Although I am only five years older now, I have suffered through two intense, beautiful, and sorrowful relationships, and these experiences have made rereading Proust one of the most rewarding activities I have ever engaged in. I am half-way through "Le Temps Retrouve" and look forward to starting the whole thing again as soon as I have finished this first reading. Even if you don't have the patience to read the entire cycle, at least read "Du Cote du Chez Swann/Swann's Way," which perfectly encapsulates the effects, styles, and themes of the entire work. If you have ever fallen in love, the section "Swann in Love" in this book will make you really think about this sensation. Proust's style may seem long-winded and pretentious at first, but once you become accustomed to it, you will realize that Proust's way of looking at the world seems to explain much that is mysterious in the human mind and heart. I have no words of praise high enough for this book. It will shock you into realizing how terrible and beautiful life really is, and how complex people are underneath the mask which we present to most other humans we encounter. The paintings of Vermeer (which play an important part in the novel) are the closest visual equivalent to this book - the sheer poetry of everyday existence is deftly and exquisitely communicated. Unlike many novels which are considered great because they deal explicitly with "great themes" - sex, death, and politics - "A la recherche du temps perdu" appears to the casual reader to be about nothing at all - a bunch of descriptions of ordinary phenomena or gossip about society figures - little more than a glorified soap opera. There is not a single word here that is not absolutely necessary, however, and the careful reader will note how many times crucial events happen for which the reader has been prepared by a seemingly trivial incident several hundred pages earlier. Somehow, this book recaptures the experience of being alive more fully than anything I have ever read, including the Bible! Read this book and I guarantee that you will not think the way you did before Proust came into your life.
185 of 197 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewilderingly unique,
By A Customer
I'm afraid I cannot really quantify "A la recherche dutemps perdu" in terms of a star rating, although I have had togive it 5 stars because I couldn't submit my review otherwise! It took me the best part of two years to read Proust's magnum opus and the question I find myself asking is: was it time well spent? I'm really not sure, even two years later.
The first and most important thing I will say is that the novel is unlike anything you will ever read, and Proust is totally unique among authors. If you thought Tolstoy or Eliot were insightful, Proust digs beneath another ten layers of motive and counter-motive to reveal his truths: there has never been a writer prepared to go to such exhaustive lengths. I'm still not sure exactly what the book is about, either. Nominally it is an exploration of the perception of time and its effects on the mind. Proust shines this light on his protagonist's early years and the high social circles he finds himself moving in. Some of the characters are memorably bizarre - principally the Baron de Charlus, whose incredible arrogance and self-deception will certainly provide the reader with a few surprises.
... Proust's other fascinations with lineage and place names may not be to every reader's tastes but are revealing insights into his incredible pedantry and appetite for minutiae.
The writing itself is often astonishing - Proust's ideas about love, betrayal and jealousy are sometimes diametrically opposed to received wisdom, but when he concentrates his unmistakable genius on these themes it is hard not to agree with his reasoning, however cynical it may be.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend "A la recherche du temps perdu" lightly. Many people won't get past the opening ruminations over the effects of Marcel missing his mother's goodnight kiss. However, for serious literary buffs it is a must. END
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars everyone's autobiography,
A star system doesn't work for Proust, any more than it would for Shakespeare. Both are too big, although in very different ways.
I started reading SWANN'S WAY when I was twenty and thought it boring. I got through the first two volumes and quit. When I turned thirty-eight I felt a strong need to read it in its entirety; I wasn't sure why. It took two years but I finished it before I was forty and felt refreshed in a way I never had on completing any other book. I saw that I was ready to enter the stage of my life when memory transforms all current reality. I pursuaded my husband to give it a try, and although he only read the first four volumes, he called it "everyone's autobiography", a perfect description. Nothing that has ever been written compares with this long, extended daydream on memory, love, loss, and the transforming power of art. As a painter, I learned new ways to look. (Proust is the only fiction writer I've ever read who understands and can express what a painting can say.)
Admittedly this very great book is not for everyone. Perhaps that's because it's so unlike other reading experiences. You have to read it with discipline and dedication, just as you approach meditation.
More than twenty years have passed since I finished it. Now I am re-reading it. Time lost in one's own life transforms this masterpiece so that it offers up new treasures, new insights, and becomes a different book. It's an organic, living, unique work of art that goes far beyond praise.
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant psychological detail,
If you're here reading this review, then you're presumably thinking of reading Proust. Given that, you also probably know that it's supposed to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written, an opinion I happen to agree with. But what makes it so great? And should you give it a try?
To answer the first part, while different people will find different things, what I enjoy most is Proust's tremendous psychological insight, and his ability to move from the specific to the general. The work is full of small events which Proust uses as springboards to illustrate general characteristics, many of which you will read with the shock of recognition that true insight provides.
And Proust tackles the big questions: love, art, and memory are all major themes, just to pick the most notable examples. But it is not all heavy, serious drudgery. Proust is also a very funny writer, and there are large sections which show a wonderful comedy of manners or social satire.
So should you try it? I would definitely recommend it, with a few caveats. First, while I think his reputation is a bit overblown, Proust can be a difficult writer. The biggest hurdle is his style; he writes very long, involved sentences that pile clauses upon clauses. But given this length and intricacy, it is remarkable how clear Proust's prose actually is. Only very rarely will you have to stop and recatch the drift of a sentence. And when that happens, it's usually because your attention has wandered, not because of any inherent opaqueness. And after you become accustomed to it, Proust's writing style becomes one of the charms of the work, immersing you in a different world every time you pick up the books.
It is also unfortunate in a way that probably the most difficult section of the book is the very first, "Combray." However, even if you find that tough going, things pick up with the second section, "Swann in Love." (Although it is never a page turner in the usual sense.) And if you can read and enjoy the first 50 pages, then you can make it through the whole thing.
The length also puts many prospective readers off, but I wouldn't worry about that so much. The total cast of characters is relatively large, but not huge, and they are so well presented and disntinctive that I never had any trouble keeping them straight. And because the work is not driven by details of the plot, it can be set down and picked up a little later without losing much, if your motivation lags. (This is a last point to keep in mind: the work will not carry you along with the plot or keep you guessing about what will happen. Instead, it will captivate you with the detail and insight it brings to present the everyday occurences of life.)
Obviously, there's much more I could write, but hopefully this will give you some idea of the work and whether you would like it, which is what a review is all about...
52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Everest of Novels,
This book is unlike anything I have ever read. Proust's basic premise is that we do not fully appreciate an experience when it happens because we are hampered and distracted at the time by the experience itself. It is only when we remember and relive an event that we are truly able to extract the most from it and thus, in remembrance, experience it more vividly than we ever could at the time it happened. So Proust, a sickly asthmatic ex-socialite locked in a cork lined room, remembers and relives his entire life, and the seven volumes of Remembrance are the result. And his remembered and relived life is rich indeed, perhaps unsurprisingly, even more so than his actual life was. This is total recall with enhancement.
But the book is much more than that. It is paragraph after paragraph and page after page of the most perfect prose and Proust the perfectionist is also the funniest and wickedest writer that ever lived. His characters: the pompous bores, self righteous clergymen, overrated diplomats and talentless but currently fashionable artists, the dandies, hypocrites, proud servants and relentless social climbers are all stripped bare by his subtle observations and unbelievably brilliant dialogue. And then there are his justifiably famous descriptions; of landscape, flowers, gardens, and of course, insomnia. All drawn so beautifully that you can almost see and taste and smell and feel everything he writes about. Indeed it's enough to make you want to curl up in a cork lined room and spend the rest of your life living vicariously through Proust's remembrances.
Good writing alters your perceptions and the better the writing the more lasting the affect. Proust, with his incredibly detailed analyses of love and desire, self delusion and human emotion will change the way you think for ever. Remembrance of Things Past is better than therapy. There's just one small problem: the sheer volume of writing and the weight of the thing. But do not despair, even if you never finish all seven volumes, and few ! have, you will at least have some idea of the monumental scale of this masterpiece, and if you are very determined there is, supposedly, a support group to give you any encouragement you might need to complete the task. Once you have completed the books of course, you can impress others forever. And if you need even further challenges you can read the entire thing in French and that should keep you busy for a while. So while you may never climb Mount Everest, and might not even make the summit of this book, I would still urge everybody to try to read at least a little of Remembrance of Things Past.
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A world unto itself,
This is the ultimate novel. The best. Too bad we only have a five-star limit. This one deserves a solid 10 stars. This novel's beauty, depth and impact will stagger the patient, persistent reader. I read the first volume, Swann's Way, about 25 years ago and was totally taken by it. Ten years later, I finally got around to the rest of the book when I ordered the wonderful Random House boxed set. I read it all summer, totally hooked to the point where I would drop duties and social invitations just to keep reading and reading. There were a few points, like the long section about "Name Places" that tested my patience, but the rest of it, oh my God! Like streams and rivers that trickle, run and rage to the vast ocean. Its sensuous details involve all the senses, its characters you will know better than people in your own life, the obsessive mental and emotional meanderings of the characters become hypnotic. The weather, the scenery, the rooms, the bee-hive hum of conversation, the loves and betrayals, it's all there and then some. It's a complete world, infinitely imagined and re-imagined, unto itself. There is nothing whatsoever like it in all of literature. As someone here said, it's THE book to take to the desert island. I am so glad I read it and hope to live long enough to read it again. More than any other book, it's the one worth re-reading. Please read it! Please FIND the time to read it! You will be forever grateful you did.
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow down. Notice more. Read Proust.,
A friend of mine had a teacher who died recently. Before the man died, he made a list of "things to do before you die" for his students. One of the things on the list was "Take the Time to Read Proust." So I started doing so, finishing the first of seven volumes just recently. It does take time, but there's nothing like it that I've read.
Many of the reviews I read before actually diving in to "Swann's Way" mentioned something along the lines of "get past the first 30 pages and you'll be off and running." This is largely true. I was a tad infuriated by the endless rambling of the opening section, which is about a boy attempting to fall asleep despite the insomnia which troubles him when his mother hasn't given him a good-night kiss. But after I weathered this section, I started to get accustomed to the style, and even began thinking how beautiful it was to recreate so many tiny mental details about an experience, or an object such as a church, a country lane, and yes, a flower (there are many flowers in Proust). When we leave Combray (the boy's summer abode) under Proust's guidance and see through Swann's eyes in Paris, the book becomes difficult to put down. Musical phrases overheard at Paris salons become "divine captives" that we hold hostage unto death, and death in their company is "somehow less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps even less probable." There are many such beautiful and unique descriptions. If you believe you have the patience to slow down enough to absorb and fathom the tiny, wonderful details of life that Proust brings to light, buy the whole set and read it over the years.
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proust WILL change your life,
This is really a review of the first three volumes (how far I've gotten). Proust's intricate difficult prose makes you work - but it is so worth it. On one level, the books are full of insight into the nature of artistic and literary perception, memory and imagination. This is what I expected from Proust - and it is all provocative, mind expanding stuff. On another level, they are a touching, funny, sometimes sad account of childhood and adolescence, sexual awakening, the loss of a beloved grandmother, etc. etc. This was unexpected. Also unexpected was the heartbreaking meditation on love that is Swann's Way, and the delightful - almost Jane Austen-like or Dickensian - social comedy that is much of the 3rd volume.
Many people are probably put off by the first 70 or so pages - the extended memory reverie that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. But if you keep going, the rewards - intellectual, emotional, and just plain fun are all there!
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic work, but not for everyone,
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This work can, if you're a certain type of person, become a central part of your internal world. And to Proust, the internal world was more intensely real and important than the external world. You might say that he thought the internal world was the only one that mattered. But this book is not for the type of person who likes an exciting plot, who wants to find out "what happens next" or witness thrilling plot twists, unsolved murders, missing treasure, or be told that the good guys win and the wicked are punished. This is about the nature of human consciousness, and about our capacity (if any) to really connect with other human beings.
If you've ever been described as "overly" introspective or melancholy, if you've felt that you have trouble connecting with other people, and you like to read, this book may become an important part of your life. Proust has changed (or perhaps fleshed out) the way I think about love, relationships, perception, human nature, the life of reflection, and most other things that really matter. I haven't finished the work yet, because I keep starting over. While there are supposedly 7 volumes (or 6, depending on the translation and edition) in reality it is just one work, over 3000 pages long. It does seem to drag at times, so I'll find myself skimming, only to realize a hundred pages later that I missed some incredible insight he had been developing the whole time. After I do this a few times, I think "what the heck, I'll just start this volume again, to see what I missed" and it's WORTH IT. I see more every time, and what I see is worth the effort several times over. So when I do finish (eventually) I'll just start over again with Swann's Way.
Proust's work, along with that of Dostoevsky, has assumed a significance in my life similar to the importance the Bible has for devout Christians. I'm not referring to the quoting of chapter and verse, but to the depth of understanding (and perhaps even a type of revalation) that is developed with successive, careful readings. This book is wonderful.
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The Captive: In Search of Lost Time. Vol. 5 by Marcel Proust (Paperback - 2001)
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