Originally published on February 28, 2014.
(ARC) ebook, 512 pages.
Read from November 14, 2013 to February 04, 2014.
Well, I finally finished it. It took me, what felt like ages to do so, but I finished it. Yale University Press has published this edition in celebration of it’s hundredth year in publication. This book is the first of seven volumes of Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time, which took Proust thirteen years to write. The volumes are meant to be read as one I believe but at over five hundred pages a book, I going to have to pass on that…
In regards to this specific edition, while I understand that this was an ARC, how this book appeared in my ereader was less than flattering and added to the difficulty of this read. For one, the formatting of the pages was off, no matter what size I set them to. I ended up having a full page and then when I would go to the next the content would only fill half of it. Additionally because of this the footnotes were never in the right place and I found myself back tracking to look something.
Proust opens this book with some early memories of childhood and gets into the specifics of his relationship with his mother (let’s all admit it here, Proust was a momma’s boy) and how he yearned and obsessed for more affection than he was given. From there, Proust then talks about the social realm his family keeps, to his hypochondriac Aunt (who was rather entertaining), he then goes into extreme details on the areas Proust and his family used to get home, the gardens, the flowers within them, oh, and few people they encounter along the way. At this point you’re about half way through the book when Proust start talking in detail about poor Mr. Swann. Mr. Swann is an unfortunate fellow who ends up falling in love with a woman named Odette. Odette is a woman of leisure that ends up having multiple relationships with men for their money. How this woman manages to keep a social circle and isn’t ever disgraced in this book I will never know. In the beginning, Mr. Swann doesn’t think much of Odette, he thinks that she is rather plain in the beginning actually, but after a romantic encounter with her involving some cattleya flowers and a car ride Mr. Swann has a change of heart. Mr. Swann’s relationship with Odette is by far the most intricate and interesting part of the story in my opinion. Proust takes you through the emotional turmoil and circle of jealously, love and fear and why Mr.Swann who, cannot for the life of him leave Odette despite her cruelty and obvious fidelity. I found myself wondering why Mr. Swann never did ask Odette to marry him. That would have been one way to secure something for him, and really solidify finances for Odette but it never came around.
“In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her.”
Now that, is the plot in it’s most bare form. What makes this book difficult is that the plot itself is not really the focal point. It’s the philosophical statements that Proust makes in relation to the plot where the masterpiece appears. His writing is truly beautiful and poignant but because of this it is also innately boring. In order to appreciate this book the reader needs to fully invest time into it, focusing on individual passages, reading every footnote and analyzing what appears to be a strange drawn out diary of a Frenchman. This novel is in itself a testament to its own time frame, which was one of leisure and art. Proust was a bold man to write out everything as he did.
“Even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people.”
In our world, that is so fast paced, to settle and take time to fully appreciate and relate to a novel like this is immensely hard. But not impossible. This novel is the kind of piece I wish I had the pleasure of reading in University when I was surrounded by other peers and could engage in discussion. I can already foresee some students loathing the novel and not seeing the point, viewing it as just another piece of outdated literature.
Tell me, does this quote not speak to you on some level?
“The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years”
What University student or person in general has not questioned their own position in life? If they should pursue their said education or if the timing of it was right? Or getting nostalgic when looking at a particular building or street that reminds them of a past memory? As Proust puts it so nicely, the places that we visit and choose to go don’t belong in just our own space and reality. It’s a creation of the realities and physical things and places of every thing surrounding us which is what forms our impressions and memories. What may be an image of regret for one person may not be for another and these memories, as the physical items that are associated with them, are brief moments in the terms of time and space.
Deep huh? This is just one of the many examples and reflections that exist in Swann’s Way. This piece is still immensely relevant if you are able to take the time to divulge in it. Now, the reason I’ve give this book two out of five stars is that despite the beauty of the writing and the reflections that it makes, it is for the most part, not an enjoyable read. I decided to stick with this rating because I am a reader in the 21st century and I do expect some amount of pleasure when I’m reading a book. I do no live a life of leisure in which I can notice an appreciate every detail of the surrounding in my life (despite that potentially being a negative thing). I want characters that I can invest in and a moderately relate-able plot. I enjoyed Proust as a boy, his strange Aunt and the troubles of Mr. Swann as those were specific areas in the book that get involved in. So when Proust spends so much of the novel, for example, going off about the specifics of a certain flower, my focus, is going to waiver. I think even them most scholarly reader will have to admit that.
With all that aside, I feel that anyone who is interested in amazing literature/philosophy or is looking for some perspective, insight and wisdom should take some time out of their busy life to read at least one of the books from this set. I know that I’m glad that I did.