on November 25, 2005
Depending on how you look at it, this seven-volume masterpiece is the most beautiful work on human consciousness, or the most overstated piece on time and memory. Jorge Luis Borges might have had Proust in mind when, horrified at the time and effort required to write long novels, he instead decided to write short reviews of imagined long novels. Whatever the energy expended in the production, the reading is strangely without ardous labor. One does not "plough" through Proust; I would never have ploughed through anything for 12 long months. Instead, I found myself pleasurably swept along by Proust's meandering stream. Of all great novelists, Proust to me was the easiest to read, easy in the sense that, for most of the year, I was unconscious of the effort of reading. When pressing matters intruded into my life, I would leave Proust aside for many weeks at a time, but only to return to him as one returns to wearing one's favourite shirt. Perhaps this weird sense of effortlessness and, at the same time, finding it absolutely indispensible, is a function of its main concern, which is Time and Memory. There are no plot devices to push the reader forward. Instead the Time-Narrative is filled with the inanities of the quotidian. A shaft of sunlight falling into the bedroom can take up many pages. A smell, a taste, can open up enormous floodgates of memory. Of Proust it may be said that he could turn an egg upside down and write a book about it. His persistance with a certain image or an object is astonishing. It reminds me of one those famous Impressionist paintings of haystacks seen under different lights.
Among the first things that struck me about this novel is its paradoxical nature: It is both intimate and epic at the same time. It is limited in its milieu and vast in its treatment of that milieu. It is minute, delicate brain-surgery done on a Tolstoyan scale.
At the centre is the narrator Marcel (though, in all the 4000 pages, he is named only once or twice). He wants to be a writer, but finds that he cannot sit down and write because he is unable to recapture the Time-Memory of his life. His writer's block lasts through seven volumes. His tenacity in trying to pin down his sensations has much to do with his artistic ambitions. but all his efforts are in vain. At one point he decides to give up altogether. When in the end he does regain "his time", it is only because of memories and sensations coming back to him quite accidentally, despite himself. He is finally able to write. The delight here, however, is ambivalent and bittersweet, for, as he says in a memorable line: "The true paradises are those that we have lost." Literature has its limits. In calling his magnum opus itself into question, Proust is thoroughly a modern writer.
The book has pleasures aplenty, the most surprising of which being its humour. Proust has created a vast portrait gallery of characters, each one vividly imagined, and it is the interactions amongst them that provide the work's funniest moments. Proust's world is a world of fading dukes and duchesses, counts and barons, princesses and kings. It is a sort of caste system, ameliorated by an imperceptible upward or downward social mobility. Whichever way they go, none of them can abandon their pretensions of noblesse oblige, the most ironic example of which is the denigration of the aristocracy wherein they are firmly ensconced, and the pleasures and privileges of which they would not want to eschew for anything in the world.
Proust's frank treatment of male homosexuality and lesbianism is something I have not encountered in any other great writer. One entire volume is titled SODOM AND GOMORRAH. Here these "inverts" behave like regular couples: they love, they get jealous, they break up. But they are not treated kindly. They seem another reflection of the decadence of the upper classes. Is this self-chastisement by Proust, who was himself a homosexual ? The characters who are later discovered to be homosexuals are portrayed as descending to death or degradation.
Great books seem somehow to attract great translators. This translation (Scott Moncrief, Terence Kilmartin) renders Proust's French into delightfully quaint, slightly archaic English. Proust's sentences are very long indeed, interlaced with subordinate clauses within clauses, which contributes to the breathless earnestness of the narrative. But it's all perfectly readable, once you get used to it, and positively addictive once you're well into it.
Need the novel have been this long ? Proust's mission is not so much to examine Time, but to look at how human beings change in relation to their past, how memory, reality, sensations all play upon human consciuosness. The reader, to appreciate Proust's super-sensibilities, ought to traverse the whole vast canvas that he has laid out. In this sense the novel's length is an invitation to us to invest a considerable part of our own Time to participate in this great Proustian odyssey, and in his quest to "regain" his own Time. The very act of reading, then, is part of the "story". There is only one other book that has given me a similar sensation: Thomas Mann's THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, which, interestingly enough, also deals with time. Time was great theme of the early 20th century (Einstein, Bergson), and so was the human consciousness(Freud, Jung). But it is best to appreciate Proust without the intrusions of any "isms", to love IN SEARCH for all its luminous qualities.
on October 9, 2006
I've just finished reading The Search for Lost Time and I'd like to share a few thoughts.
First, commit to reading the whole thing, all seven volumes, all million+ words. However if the commitment frightens you (as it should) first read Swann's Love, the middle part of the first volume.
Second, if you commit don't be afraid to take a break and leave the book aside. I began reading it fifteen years ago, and read Swann's Love several times before finally getting a one volume omnibus and reading the whole thing. It took me eight months, during which I freely allowed myself to read other books.
Third, don't read Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life until you're reached the final volume. It's a wonderful book, but if you want to read the Search, then De Botton's little book is a "digestif" that will help you put Proust in perspective.
Fourth, you don't have to read Proust. No one does. If you don't enjoy reading the Search, leave it alone. Proust never liked the title "The Search for Lost Time" and I think he might have actually preferred the now discredited original English translation title "Remembrance of Things Past".* In French Lost Time (Temps Perdu) implies a waste of time, and Proust was very conscious of having wasted the first forty years of his life.
Lastly, I wouldn't worry too much about the translation. I read the Search in French and it struck me that translating Proust wouldn't be much harder than reading him. The essence of Proust's style is not dramatic rhetoric, it is patient and painstaking descriptions and explanations. He wants the reader to understand something very complex and subtle: his or her own self. You'll find the drama in his philosophy. His sentences are long, convoluted, dreamy, full of meandering turns, but Proust doesn't use French the way, for instance, La Fontaine or Hugo do. Most of Proust's meaning will survive the translation, very little will be lost.
Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
*I was wrong there, Proust hated the "Remembrance..." title. See the comments for details.
on October 15, 2009
This is a review by an amateur reader for amateur literati. I'm 71. I am not taking a college literature class (although I am college educated and have an M. D. degree, if that means anything); I'm not a professor, and I don't hang out in book clubs. Lately, after years of laziness and negligence, I've at last read about 50 "important" books to catch up on what I have missed, and, notably for me, at last, after fear of commitment, have recently finished Proust's magnum opus to see what the fuss was all about. I read it straight through over a 9 month period, in parcels of minutes to hours, usually in the quiet time before retiring. In an effort to give my straight unbiased comments I have not read any the reviews here.
The Modern Library 6 book cased edition by translators Moncrieff, Kilmartin, and Enright, turned out to be more than good; it was a delightful, easy style, not obscure or convoluted; you readily could appreciate Proust's incredibly detailed yet smooth, almost poetic style, with his superb attention to psychological detail in how one thinks, feels and reacts to events and memory. I will not go much into the plot or the literary stature of the book as I am sure it has all been covered elsewhere quite capably. I will say the main theme is the close critical observation of the social life of the era, the pretensions of the very rich and the competing social climbers, and more significantly, the conveying of one's life to such an extent that it almost takes over your own; you may well be lured into taking one reality for the other.
Did I get everything out of the book I could have? No. Why? Well, when you start, you don't know what is significant, which characters are going to be important later on, what is the importance of a certain view, a particular impression, a flower, a scene, a smell, a remembrance which will later be elaborated on by another remembrance. There are supposedly about 2000 characters, and the 3500 pages, or so. The characters may have strange names or similar names (Villeparisis, Verdurin, Vinteuil); they may change their names (Mme Guermantes aka Oriane then v Princess Guermantes now as taken over by Mme Verdurin). M. Guermantes is Basin. Charlus is Meme, and Palamede. If you have trouble with remembering names this tangled multi-personed story may not be for you.
When you get into the later volumes will you remember everything that went on in the earlier volumes? Will you remember all the names? Checking the synopsis and the alphabetical listing of characters and persons and places and themes in the Modern Library indices will help you along; but these sometimes are not too clarifying -- they mostly list the bare events and brief definitions, not analysis in depth.
For adjunctive help I suggest two books *about* the book, unless you just want to read it raw --a sensible procedure since, after all, a renowned author should be able to write clearly, better than anyone else. If otherwise, first I recommend a tiny well-illustrated booklet, "Marcel Proust" by Mary Ann Caws, 2005, a short biography with dozens of photos, color illustrations, thumbnails of paintings and a few snippets of music scores; this is a fetching companion which puts a little meat on the bones of the novel. For example, you get to see the famous Vermeer with the "little patch of yellow wall." There are photos of many of the characters in Proust's world: Colette; Sarah Berhardt, Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (I love that tongue twister. Curious?)
The second helper is "Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time - A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past" by Patrick Alexander a 385 paperback that gives an extended summary (beyond what's in the backs of the novel itself) and a guide to the main characters, plus good references and bits about Paris, France and the author's life.
Take a deep breath and plunge into it unaided and see how it fits together at the end, when everyone is old and the story gels. If you followed everything, great! If there is a struggle, try the assistants. If you are puzzled, you get to read it again!
on July 16, 2014
Three days ago I finished reading Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Today I will begin my second reading. That's the best recommendation I can give. In a lifetime of reading I have never read a book twice in a row outside of an academic requirement. This rereading is not motivated by a sense of "that was good, hit restart and do it again." There is a "secret" in Proust's book that, when revealed, invites rereading. Its not a secret, I just don't want to try to explain here when it is in the books I reference below. According to one source I read, it is not uncommon for those who finish Proust's book to want to immediately reread.
This review is about how I completed my first reading, not a summary of the book. More than most books, first time readers of In Search of Lost Time need a plan to have a reasonable prospect for success. In this review I will share the questions I asked and decisions I made. The fact that I finished the book should indicate the decisions I made were right for me and my circumstance. I hope what I write will allow others to weigh my decisions and apply them to their own circumstance.
In order to judge how your circumstances differ from mine, a bit about mine. I'm in my early sixties and retired. I was able to plan on an hour of quiet time per day for Proust. I'm a lifelong reader with wide-ranging tastes. I tried reading In Search of Lost Time several times and never got past page 50. But Proust's book remained on my Bucket Reading list. I read on my iPad using the Kindle App. I listened to the Audiobook and read simultaneously. My first reading took five months reading one hour a day on most days.
First decision, what is the book about and does it interest me? There is a lot of well intentioned but misguided and potentially misleading info about Proust's book. Seek opinions from whomever you like. But I also strongly recommend seeking professional advice. I have two books to recommend. Not to buy and read entirely (at least not yet), but to read the introduction. If you have an e-reader, download these free samples and read them. These books are Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time by Roger Shattuck and Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. These books address such questions as Proust's style and the length of the book.
Next decision, which translation should I read? None ideally. Read it in French. That wasn't an option for me. In my opinion the translation question is way over emphasized. This isn't Homer, Virgil, Dante etc. Proust's book was written One Hundred years ago. All modern English translations are suitable for first time readers. I used the Public Domain C.K.Scott Montcrieff translation for all but the last volume (which Moncrieff left unfinished at his death). I chose Moncrieff's translation because it was what the Audiobook used. I was well satisfied. I have purchased the Modern Library version where I will post this review, but my second reading will also use Montcrieff's translation. In comparing Modern Library's (MKE) translation to Montcrieff the first sentence of the second paragraph starts: "I would ask myself what O'Clock it could be;" (Moncrieff) vs "I would ask myself what time it could be;" (MKE). If that kind of difference makes a difference to you, buy one of the expensive copyrighted translations.
Next decision, what edition should I use? One with the fewest footnotes, endnotes, summaries, appendices etc. Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time to be a self-contained story. There are hundred's of character's (but less than 20 main characters) lots of references to paintings, music, plays, and books. Character's names and titles (for the aristocracy) are mind-boggling. Proust understand's your concern and accommodates his readers. Names, places artwork etc that are important to the story are repeated over and over. Historical events are discussed by characters to understand what you need to know for the story. When such things are in past volumes, the circumstance of their location in the story are recalled to refresh the reader's memory. Stopping to look up such things in appendices or footnotes interrupts the narrative flow. Narrative flow is important and one of the aesthetically pleasing aspects of the book. If you really want to know about a referenced art-work or historical event, make a note and look it up on Wikipedia after the day's reading.
Next decision, what supplementary materials should I read to prepare for reading Proust? None. Oh, I did read Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, great book, but not a deciding factor to read Proust for me. Summaries are counterproductive. Proust generates and maintains suspense by deliberately pacing disclosure of even minor details. Again citing Shattuck: "One must read Proust as carefully as a detective story in which any detail may become a clue to everything else." In Search of Lost Time is enjoyed best one page at a time without any knowledge of what the next page will bring. Guides and notes I addressed above. Biographies of Proust are particularly counterproductive. Despite everything you read to the contrary, In Search of Lost Time is not Proust's Autobiography. The more you focus on Proust, the harder it will be to understand the "big picture" of Proust's book. AFTER completing In Search of Lost Time is the time to review reference books. I read the Shattuck book referenced above and Howard Moss' The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust after completing the book.
Next decision, listen to the Audiobook while reading? I learned some time ago that listening while reading gave me a tremendous advantage in accessing challenging literature. But Roger Shattuck puts the case best for listening to Proust, "The best way to discover and respond to Proust's expressive voice, as well as the deliberate pacing of his narrative, is to hear the prose, to read it out loud." Correct pronunciation of names, titles, places, ect. is important to me for comprehension. So I let the Audio Narrator do that for me (Naxos Production with Neville Jason narrating). Shattuck also states: "Without an auditory sense of the text, even in its most reflective and interior passages, the visual field of unrelieved print tends to become oppressive. Translations cannot convey the original texture, yet on this score the available versions perform remarkably well. They all bear reading aloud." The Audio made the notoriously long sentences seem completely natural to me. There are several Audio versions of at least the first volume (Swann's Way). The only Complete Unabridged AudioBook of In Search of Lost Time in English as of the date of this review is Naxos Production, Neville Jason narrator. The text narrated is the Moncrieff translation for the first six volumes and Jason and another gentleman collaborated on a translation for the seventh volume (which I didn't use because there was no published text. I made do with reading the last volume and was fine with it because I knew how to read the text and pronounce names by then.
- Next decision, just listen to the Audiobook or an Abridged version? Having listened and read, I can't imagine listening to this book without reading. It just does not seem well-suited to casual listening, at least to me. At 153 hours, Naxos claims their Audiobook of Proust's book is the longest recorded to date. That's lots of time to listen to other books. As for abridged versions, As a matter of preference I don't read them. Your milage may vary.
Next decision, other techniques? I don't normally highlight novels, but I highlighted a lot in Proust's book. Electronic highlighting. This was a learned process as I went along. First I highlighted shifts in time and place (which are easy to loose track of). The narrator may be standing on a platform waiting to board a train, something makes him start thinking and we are off on a 20 page digression, its good to be able to flip back and see that we are still standing on the train platform. In a different color I highlighted names and titles of new characters and place names. I highlighted interesting or funny passages in a third color and seemingly important passages in a fourth color. Was it distracting? No, it became second nature.
A few closing thoughts on my first reading. For three and a quarter volumes I soldiered on. It was beautifully written and often very funny but I didn't have the "fire in my belly." Shattuck and others note that many give up after a few pages, or one to two volumes. You can't even begin to understand the plot after the first two volumes (at least unaided as I recommend). Then the book "clicked" for me. It requires persistence. I'm really glad I stuck with it.
on January 22, 2008
I finished Proust's magnum opus a couple of years ago. I read SWANN'S WAY, then got about a quarter of the way through WITHIN A BUDDING GROVE, before stopping and taking a year's hiatus. When I returned to it I read straight through the remaining 6 volumes. Proust became for me, not so much a duty, or even a quest, but an addiction. There is really not much to add other than the fact that these books affected me more than any other books I have read. Once you are drawn in there is no escape. What one encounters within are some of the most fascinating and frustrating people one can imagine, and some of the most profound ideas and greatest insights on human nature ever recorded.
There are a number of themes explored here, each in unique and incisive fashion..the nature of memory, fidelity, love, obsession, jealousy, homosexuality, and the nature of art. It has been designated as semi autobiographical, but maybe it is the greatest autobiography ever written, since it portrays in detail, the truest possible representation of the author's heart, mind, and soul. It is perhaps, the most important and influential literary work of the 20th century.
IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME occupied the last 13 years of Proust's life, the last 3 of which he was confined to a cork lined bedroom due to deteriorating health. Unfortunately, Proust died before he was able to make final revisions of the drafts and proofs of the last volumes. IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME was the culmination of a lifetime spent critically observing his world, while absorbing important literary, artistic, philosophic, and cultural influences from the great minds of contemporaries and predecessors such as Henri Bergson, Schopenhauer, John Ruskin, Flaubert, Stendhal, Montaigne, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and George Eliot. Having processed all that information, through his genius Proust recreates in meticulous detail a late 19th century France where minds, hearts, and souls are at times lucid and painfully exposed, and at times hide perplexing mysteries, but always are as tangible as the architecture, landscapes, fashions, and diversions of an emerging bourgeoisie and a fading nobility.
on October 1, 2008
Seven books, six volumes, 4300 pages--makes "war and peace" look like a short story. That's marcel proust's "in search of lost time". It is an excellent read and is highly recommended to the lover of quality literature.
Simply put, it is the story of the protagonist and how he became an author. although some feel its sense of time makes it a difficult book to read, that is not my perception. It starts somewhere near the end and then comes back to the beginning where it proceeds in a generally chronological order. It is therefore a fairly easy book to read but for the sometimes very long sentences and paragraphs. There is much more observation than conversation. It is an extremely insightful book that makes you look philosophically at almost all aspects of your life. It doesn't preach; it makes you think.
the novel covers a myriad of topics: maternal love, heterosexual love, homosexuality, time, memory, jealousy, social class, old age, death and many others. It does so beautifully, insightfully and humorously. To call the writing poetic is really to sell it short. These books have some of the most beautifully written segments that I have ever read. The best is the author's recollection of his waiting for his mother to come up and kiss him good night. ("swann's way", page 15). If you are ever in a book store, pick up the modern library version of the book and just read that paragraph. I guarantee that you will buy the book and bring it home.
I also particularly like the modern library 6 volume collection. What makes it so good are the references at the end of each volume and particular the references that cover all the volumes that are in the last book, "time regained". This section lets you look back at all the characters and themes that you have encountered in the book and go directly to the pages where they are referenced. With a story this long, this reference material is essential.
Don't think you have to read each book one after the other. They were written years apart, with the end written before many of the later books. I read 2-3 books between each of the volumes and had no difficulty picking up where I had left off.
I would also suggest that you read up on the dreyfus case as it plays a central role in the social interactions that take place in the story.
This is a great book that every lover of good literature should read.
on March 11, 2012
Note: the rating refers to the e-book release; the superb work by Proust deserves all 5 stars.
I purchased this 6 book collection, and it turns out there is no easy way to move from book to book inside the collection.
At the Kindle Home screen you see a single element, which is the six volume book; at the table of contents of any of the 6 books you are reading you only see contents for that book, not for the whole collection.
The only practical way to move to another book is to GO-TO Cover, move down a few pages, and then click on the Collection Table of Contents in order to jump to the book you want to (or bookmark that page of course).
You would expect the Kindle to have a single table of contents which lists each volume and each chapter.
Please Amazon, this is the most expensive e-book I purchased so far, can't you come up with a more user-friendly solution?
Another issue of this multivolume book I don't enjoy is the way the locations and percentages are shown in relation to the whole collection.
At the very least I would like to have an option to display the location or page number and percentage in relation to the current book.
on February 17, 2007
If you've read the first four volumes of the Penguin Modern Classic, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, then don't let the publication restriction in the US stop you from buying the British text versions. Except for minor presentation, they are exactly the same that will be published in the US when the copyrights expire. The only differences (which are hardly a great obstacle to the enjoyment of reading the novel), are the footnotes in back and the original French lyrics which Proust occasionally quotes from in the body of the work -- apparently the British assume we colonial philistines do not know as much French as they do.
The introduction to The Fugitive I found hugely welcome -- British translator Carol Clark is unapologetically direct in summing up for us what the previous 4 volumes have been about -- a long wished for insight as I have been dying to know up to this point whether or not I have been truly getting Proust all along.
The curse and the blessing is that Proust died before he could give the final sign off on these manuscripts before publication. A curse because he most certainly would have removed or resolved many errors, and extended or rewritten many parts which are its weakest sections. A blessing in that, to be sure, there are in this and the next volume several obvious errors which a good copy editor would have detected and eliminated, but with time have become such a part of Proustian lore that they can no more be removed than say Jimmy Durante's nose shortened or Richard Burton's pockmarks removed or Marilyn Manson's makeup wiped clean.
And if one has lasted this long, the addiction to Proust's peregrinations from the plot to discuss seemingly unrelated topics and issues in minute detail - as seen from the other end of binoculars, as Roger Shattuck writes in Proust's Binoculars- one will not be at all bothered about any perceived sloppiness in these last two volumes. On the contrary, one will feel proud to detect them for oneself, and have a private chuckle about it as Proust is forgiven for what would be unacceptable by today's publishing standards.
SO don't wait four more years - you'll not care by then or have forgotten much of the threads of the protean plot which keeps all volumes tied into one - for most of what is written in these last volumes is the rich reward the reader deserves after having hung in there until the end, to discover the final fate and full identities of all the rich and lively characters we have come to love - Charlus and St Loup, Albertine and Gilberte, oh, and Mme Potbus' maid - remember her?
The Prisoner and the Fugitive translated by Carol Clark
This is almost a novel within the novel as it deals in two parts with the final resolution of the narrator's relationship to Albertine, this character who, more so than any other, the narrator has kept directly from the reader's curious view and desire to know her in her own voice.
Finding Time Again translated by Ian Patterson
The fates of the rest of the characters are revealed, and the narrator in this last volume himself ages (or catches up to the age at which he began telling this long story -- and we will learn why he had to write it all before his death, as the line between fiction and reality between Marcel the narrator and Marcel the famed French writer nearly disappears). This is the volume where, winding down at last from what was always a nebulous plot to one last social scene,like a curtain call, all the characters take their final bows together in old age (either still alive or in the narrator's memory of them). And there are some great surprises left to discover, which hopefully too much reading of Proustian criticism, biographies, and reviews hasn't already revealed to the `well informed but too reluctant to read A la Recherché du Temps Perdu for themselves' lover of literature.
on February 3, 2000
Alright, so I'm a cheat. I never thought I'd get beyond admiring the bright spanking six volumes of A la recherche (3700 pages! Phew!) on my bookshelves, but when it was announced that Raul Ruiz had made a film of the last book, I seized my chance. Thanks to this brilliant edition you can, because at the end is an exhaustive guide to Proust, listing every character, historical person, place and theme of the whole work, so that just by referring regularly to this you quickly catch up with what's going on. Of course this isn't the same as living with characters and events through literature, but this volume is so amazing you can't fail to want to begin the whole thing and experience them from the start.
This is, as I expected, one of the most beautiful and exciting books I have ever read, as well as one of the most frustrating and irritating. What is most surprising, for a book claimed as one of the two greatest of the century, is how old-fashioned it is (compared to the still startlingly modern and socially relevant ULYSSES).
It has two types of narrative. One, about a young middle class boy who penetrates society, is a mixture of social comedy and tortured romance familiar to anyone who has read a great Victorian novel - there is the same social analysis of an outmoded caste, wide range of characters, poetic evocation of place.
The language, once you get used to the involved, elaborate sentences, is very accessible in a Jamesian kind of way, intricately psychological and analytical, yet supremely elegant and radiant, with a verve and lightness remarkable for such a heavy book.
The translation is, for once, remarkable - it can never be the original, I guess, but you rarely feel that you are getting only half the work like you usually do.
The second half is less satisfactory. As is appropriate to a book concerned with time, the book's forward progress is constantly impeded, by degressions, flashbacks, fastforwards, explanations. The book, like those of Anthony Powell (if you loved THE DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME, you'll adore this) is less straight plotting, than a series of monumental set-pieces.
This novel is 450 pages long, but has only about three events - the narrator going back to the country to stay with friends; the first world war; a huge party. These are mini-novels in themselves and are extraordinary as social observation, character comedy and amusing incident, as well as profoundly moving meditations on the inexorable power of history and old age.
Imagine the narrator has a remote control as he is walking through the film of his life. He freezes the screen every three seconds and discusses in detail the tableaux vivants before him, bending time and experience back and forwards with ease as he does so.
In between these are ruminations on the art of writing. This is a remarkably self-reflexive book, the narrator suddenly starts talking about how he came to write it, what he intended to achieve and what tools he was going to use. The volume becomes less the conclusion of a vast work than the record of its inception; you have to go back then and read it again (believe me, 3700 pages won't seem enough).
This section, a book-length manifesto, is fascinating and thrilling, but also repetitive, difficult, frustrating, and sometimes obscure - it gets in the way of the brilliant descriptive passages - the meeting with Baron de Charlus is possibly the most extraordinary thing I have read, until the remarkable coup of the closing party, where people the narrator hasn't seen for years have grown horribly old and form a grotesque, funereal fancy dress party - you want him to shut up talking about Time and impressionism and get back to the fun.
Two other things: Evelyn Waugh was wrong - Proust is hilarious, both with subtle ironies and more obvious satiric abuse; with risible character traits and wider social events.
Secondly, the narrator is not some unbearable omnisicient know-all as those of Victorian novels - he is deeply unreliable - a prig, hypocrite, voyeur, homophobic, intolerant, puritan, snob, deeply contradictory and cripplingly ill; in earlier volumes he is apparently obsessional, jealous and brutal to the point of insanity. No wonder Nabokov adored him - he is, in his ravishingly aesthetic unreliability, the first Humbert.
on March 12, 2005
Though it bears the title of Proust's seven-volume masterpiece, this is actually just the final volume, called "Finding Time Again" in this new translation. This particular book would be the British paperback edition, for the American press run has so far only given us four volumes, all of which are for sale on Amazon in a uniform style.
There are small but real differences between the British and American editions. With their greater tolerance for continental foibles, the Brits retained French punctuation, using dashes instead of quotation marks for conversation. They also retained the French wherever Proust makes a literary reference, providing a translation in the notes; in the American edition, this policy is reversed.
In reading the first two volumes ("Swanns' Way" and "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower") I noticed typographical errors that might well have resulted in converting the British to the American languages, rather than from French to English. For example, on page 95 of "In the Shadow" there is the phrase "Professor Cottard and his wife were not to partake of the pleasure" when the sentence should actually read "NOW to partake," since Swann has decided to introduce the Cottards to the Duchesse! Not earthshaking, but it does rather spoil Proust's little joke.
In short, these British paperbacks will serve very nicely if the American reader is in a hurry to complete the novel, and they may also be more free of errors. But I will probably wait for the uniform hardcover Viking volumes.
I haven't read Mr. Patterson's translation of volume seven, but I give it five stars based on the company it keeps.