Reissued as a tie-in to the film by Raoul Ruiz, this final volume of Proust's masterpiece In Search of Lost Time
presents obvious problems for those coming to it without the benefit of having read the previous sections: even with the extensive character guides and synopses which make up the last third of the book (230 pages!) the task is a daunting one, with Proust's notoriously labyrinthine sentences equally likely to impede the unwary reader. However, for those who do not wish to start at the beginning, with Swann's Way
, this is paradoxically the one volume with which it might be conceivable to start a non-chronological attempt, for it is here that the narrator, identified as "Marcel" (but not to be confused with Proust himself, or not entirely), encounters characters from earlier books, grown older and bearing the traces of the passage of time, and decides to turn the experiences of his life into fiction, into the book we are holding. Throughout, it is Proust's boundless sensitivity to the variety of human experience and motivation, his delicate understanding of the precarious balance between memory and the present, that captivates and entrances.
Time Regained opens with Marcel visiting Gilberte, for whom he had entertained an adolescent passion. Realising that the places he loved as a child have lost their charm for him, he also reaffirms that he has a "lack of talent for literature"--the possibility of becoming a writer seems to him to be impossible. The remainder of the first half of the volume details the devastations of the First World War, which transforms Paris and the social world Marcel had known, destroying the distinctions, hierarchies and certainties that had previously existed. Many years later, he returns to Paris, and his speculations on memory--that "the true paradises are the paradises we have lost"--begin to awaken in him a sense of how he might at last answer the calling of being a writer that had first impressed itself upon him as a child. But when he revisits the social circles which had once so entranced him, he is appalled at the changes wrought by the passing of years:
I had made the discovery of this destructive action of Time at the very moment when I had conceived the ambition to make visible, to intellectualise in a work of art, realities that were outside Time.
It is the moving resolution of this problem that closes the book, and closes one of the supreme acts of literary creation of the 20th century: in its ending we are taken back to the beginning, to experience the variety and complexities of human life again, transmuted into art. --Burhan Tufail
"As close to being a definitive version of the great novel as we are likely to get" Scotsman "Sublime... In Proust's interweaving of romantic delusions, the glory of the descriptions, as the narrator strives to recapture the past, redeems everyone" -- John Updike "The way he replicates the workings of the mind changed the art of novel-writing forever...his style is extraordinary, enveloping, captivating" Guardian "Proust isn't just the most profound of novelists, but the most entertaining, too. No reader ever forgets his most killingly funny scenes... Proust sinks deepest in readers because the book is so exhaustively analytical, so ceaselessly truthful. Not the least of it is the book's heavenly length, so that it inevitably takes over your life for a long stretch... the experience of reading it becomes, in itself, an unforgettable thing" Independent "Surely the greatest novelist of the 20th century" Sunday Telegraph
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