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The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time Hardcover – October 8, 1997
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"For a long time I used to try to read Proust," recalls Phyllis Rose, evoking both the somnolent opening salvo of Remembrance of Things Past and her own resistance to that mighty, melancholic masterpiece. Happily, she did get around to it. And even better, she recorded her dogged progress through all seven installments--and her own, shall we say, parallel life--in The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time. The result is an irresistible hybrid of autobiography, rumination, and lit crit, in which the author puts one Proustian principle after another into action. Some of these efforts end up backfiring on Rose. For example, her attempt to tar a friend with the French novelist's paradoxical brush causes her some deep embarrassment:
Paradox always leads you to a sort of truth, for it gets at truth's many-sidedness. But the tone of what I wrote David, although it amused him, was not Proustian. There's a sweetness that comes with complex understanding, and I didn't have it. The bitterness of my sterility flowed into the style, creating of Annie, whom I sometimes loved, sometimes scorned, sometimes envied, sometimes resented, sometimes relished, and sometimes pitied, a creature of blanket unattractiveness and of myself uncomplicated malice.Here, of course, the author is being hard on herself, articulating precisely the sort of complexity that she's supposed to be incapable of. The paradox might evoke a faint smile from Proust himself--who also might have relished the pinpoint social observation and relentless honesty of Rose's book. Whether she's recording a late-breaking entente between herself and her mother, or the details of a dinner party for blaspheming bad boy Salman Rushdie, or her own career disappointments, the author withholds nothing. At the same time, she delivers any number of big-picture truths, occasionally wrapping them in you-know-who's favorite sort of simile: "As at a big party, you approach people you haven't seen in a long time with benevolence and perhaps a little too much joy, fearing that you've forgotten how close you were, in a long friendship, you might approach your friend with a tentativeness and uncertainty unwarranted by the degree of affection you feel for her, but understandable in the light of human forgetfulness and the complexity of your particular exchanges." It's all here--generosity, mortification, high intelligence, and top-quality gossip, along with enough Proustian moments to last any reader at least a year. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
A writer (Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, LJ 10/1/83) and professor at Wesleyan University, Rose finally buckled down to read Proust?and rediscovered her own past.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Look, I appreciate the fact that Phyllis Rose may come from a context where people who have negotiated the whole of Proust are scarce as hens' teeth, but that doesn't mean the rest of us do. Among my friends, at least, this achievement isn't so rare: none of us would have been so self-absorbed as to consider the feat book-worthy!
Was Rose so taken with herself that this alone was reason for writing an entire book? Sheesh. At least Jacobs' chronicle of his supposedly reading the entire Britannica: The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World was memorably recorded, while Shea's muddling through the OED Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages at least contained lots of amusement. Rose can offer no insights even remotely comparable to theirs.
No wonder there are so many of them available for a penny!
Instead, it turned into sort of 'chick lit' tale about her zany times being in with the in-crowd of the New York literary scene. The cover of the book seemed deceptive. It seems serious and having to do with Proust's obsession with getting in bed and what happens in the mind between awake and sleep. But the writing in Rose's book seemed more like Bridget Jones diary, amusing.
There is a party described in Rose's book, at her place in the Florida Keys for Salman Rushdie. Imagine such a party described by Proust, instead we get a description of Rose being busy about the caterer and getting enough chairs, etc., then its over and there has been no description at all about the guests and conversations at the party at all, as would have run to 100s of pages of Proust's writing.
So that is what I find depressing, what I consider to be a special world view and style is here treated as a sort of clever hook and decoration. This woman may well have read 'In Search of Lost Time' that year, but it didn't have any impact on her sensibility as a writer.
I have since completed the reading. I can understand how some of the consumer reviewers were not pleased, based on what they were expecting. I didn't know what to expect, and feel like I made a new friend. I also feel like I now know just enough of what Proust is and isn't and what to expect, that I can start volume one (which I picked up next on that same day).
I learned so much about the writing process, the creative process in general, and when to "let it go," that I hope some day I can thank Ms. Rose in person for her contribution to the furthering of my life. I don't know what you've learned from this "review," as it's not very customary, but if you buy this book, you could get a great time with a new friend -- not to mention an 11-page list of her important books to read (some from authors mentioned in the book, some not), which is a great thing to have next time you don't know what you should read next.
Most recent customer reviews
The saving grace, I suppose, is that Rose herself provides a perfect example of the snobs...Read more