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In Search of Lost Time: Proust 6-pack (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – June 3, 2003
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From the Back Cover
- Publisher : Modern Library; 1st edition (June 3, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 4211 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812969642
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812969641
- Item Weight : 8.38 pounds
- Dimensions : 8.41 x 5.37 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #49,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.
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Reviewed in India on November 25, 2019