Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1 by Marcel Proust

703685

Originally published on February 28, 2014. 

2/5 stars.
(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.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

10876214

2/5 stars.
Paperback, 351 pages.
Read from July 14 to August 06, 2015.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I  was excited to read this book as I had never read anything by McCarthy prior to this. I had heard so many great things about him so I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t enjoy this book more. I haven’t given up on McCarthy yet though! I will read The Road, his most notorious publication before I make my final opinion on him.  

The book takes place around the Texan and Mexican border in the US during the 1850’s.  The book follows a runaway teenage boy, known only as, the kid and after getting arrested in Mexico he is acquainted with some men and works his way into joining their gang in order to get out of prison. The gang is a depiction of the historically notorious Glanton gang, who hunt for the scalps of Native American’s for profit and pleasure. After terrorizing and taking scalps the gang comes up with an idea to rob a bank, which ultimately doesn’t go well. Wounded and taking heavy losses, the remaining gang works their way through the desert where tensions within the group begin to show themselves.

I did appreciate McCarthy’s style, or lack there of in a way. McCarthy is one of the few authors that can get away without using practically any punctuation. This lack of punctuation worked really with the characters and their Texan slang but as a reader, you’re left to determine who is speaking because McCarthy never uses quotation marks. I definitely had to re-read a few pages just to follow some conversations. McCarthy also uses a substantial amount of Spanish, which he did not translate. So if you’re not familiar with Spanish, you’ll most likely have to do some translations yourself to understand what’s going on. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up so many words in the dictionary before. McCarthy is a well-versed man.

I felt the most interesting parts of the book were all about the kid’s rough childhood. After he joined up with the group of men to start scalping native heads, is where I started to lose interest. Not because the book lacked for violence or because the characters were uninteresting but because I couldn’t keep track of the plot. The scenes all seemed to resemble each other in that the group of men would scalp some heads, get in trouble with the natives or the locals, then meet some new people during their journey’s through the desert and as a result a lot of people died. I know that I was guilty of skimming a few pages out of frustration with this strange plot.

I wish that this novel was more focused on the inner workings of the kid rather than the intricacies of the plot and its philosophies. This approach would make the book more pleasurable to read but it would also take away some of its ingenuity. I would recommend this book to those who are familiar with the history of the US at this time and for those who are familiar with McCarthy’s work.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

2/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from March 22 to April 13, 2014.

This book has been nominated and has won a variety of awards, to name a few: Man Booker Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2011)Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2012)Scotiabank Giller Prize (2011). It was also apart of CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads debate, which is what brought me to read this book.

I can see why this book won awards. The author is Canadian, the novel discusses the dangers of being black during the Nazi’s reign as well mingling in the ever popular topic of jazz. These are three areas/topics that many critics appear to check off their list as a part of a good novel. The dynamics of the characters and content sounds like they should make for a very interesting plot, and while at times it did, I felt very disappointed with this award winner.

Sidney “Sid” Griffiths is the main voice in this novel. He is the bassist in the German/African-American jazz band, The Hot-Time Swingers. Other important members include Charles “Chip” Jones on drums and the ever young and talented Hiero (Hieronymus) Falk on horn. Paul, Fritz and Ernst are the other minor and additional characters in the band. The plot surrounds the bands survival amidst the Nazis. Sid was born in America and can often pass for being white, while Hiero is a “Mischling” a half-breed; he was born in Germany with a mix of German and African blood. His skin tone is quite dark as a result, making it substantially more difficult for him to get around during the Nazi invasion. One of the pinnacles of the story is that the famous Louis Armstrong has extreme interests in the talent of Hiero and he wants to record an album. The story the reader is involved in the most however, is the ever changing relationship  that Sid and Hiero have and the eventual regret and mistake that Sid makes with Hiero in which he will come to regret his entire life.

The chapters in the story are separated by different time-frames. For example, the story opens up in Paris in 1939 when the band is attempting to record the album. The next chapter is in Berlin in 1992 and here we see a very old and miserable Sid Griffiths. The book does this flip flop, unsuccessfully in my opinion, of time-frames to give the reader an idea of how much time has passed and how long Sid has been living with his one major regret. I found that the chapters were choppy and didn’t flow as nicely as they could have. I found myself at times going back to read an detail that was vaguely mentioned in the past but ends up becoming more important in the future.

I also felt that this book could have been more concisely written. The story and concept is good but it was carried out inefficiently. For example, there is a flashback scene with Sid and Chip as teenagers involving some prostitutes, which I believe is meant to show how long the two of them had been playing together. While it’s one of my favourite scenes, I feel it does little to build either of the characters or their relationship at this point in the story. We’re already aware of Sid and Chip’s past at this point, so while the scene was entertaining it had little to do with the main conflicts or developments.

While Sid and Chip are dynamic and interesting characters they’re not the most likable. Sid is negative and serious and Chip is a bit sleazy. Hiero is the most innocent and likable character but you actually learn very little about him throughout the book. I feel that this was probably intentional but I feel if we had known more about Hiero it would made the turning point in the book by far more poignant.

Overall, this book is very dynamic and it has reached out to a lot of readers with its content and awards. I’m glad I read the book as I like to support Canadian authors but I don’t foresee myself reading anything else by the author.