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4.0 out of 5 stars
Swann's Way
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As many people have said here, it's nigh on impossible to do this work justice in the context of a product review. Proust is uninterested in writing a coherent story as such, but instead exploring the idea of memory and imagination, and the hinterland where the two meet. As the first in what is a seven volume set, this lays the groundwork for the author to develop his exploration and take the reader on a nebulous journey, but one that is filled with wit and warmth, and a perceptive understanding of the human condition. A book essentially to be read at leisure, and one that will reward the reader time and again.
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39 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2003
This is the first part of Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time', the longest novel ever published. Given much more of this I won't be making it to the sixth part in a hurry.
The central theme of the book is Proust's description of how sensual experiences (the sight of a church, the taste of tea and cake, the smell of a certain flower, etc.) are used to reconstruct our past. Memory becomes an interaction with the present via mnemonics that are constantly surrounding us. Our enjoyment of the present is, conversely, shaped by our experience of it in the past. This is shown in three separate narratives: an account of his childhood holiday home, the love affair between a Swann and Odette, and the first signs of childish love between Proust and Swann's daughter.
In all three cases Proust occasionally provides glimpses of beautiful prose, moments that the reader will recognise. His descriptions of how memory sparks when given the right stimuli are sometimes powerful and surprisingly familiar, as is his description of a lovesick Swann mooning after Odette round Paris society. However, the sublime moments are few and far between, and the tortuous and repetitious retelling of Proust's central themes made this a painful read. There is no real narrative, and nothing in the text or structure that may have redeemed this. Yet another description of a minute aspect of Combray or another example of Swann's jealous behaviour do little to add to the readability of the book, and the language is often so over-intricate and flowery that sentences frequently needed re-reading to remind me of where they started. In addition, the characters are not particularly interesting. They are all too hidden behind their starched facades and society niceties (Swann is perhaps an exception to this).
I finished the book because I am the sort of pretentious idiot who wanted to have read Proust, not because I enjoyed it. I may attempt the second book for the same reasons. If you are any more grown up than me, I suggest you give careful consideration to what this book has to offer to your life. Proust clearly understands people very well, but it seems that he is just a little less adept at communicating with them.
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on 13 March 2015
Top notch brain food.
The game is to try and keep up with the clauses. And by the end of the sentence see how much of the beginning you've retained. I find that above all is the best thing about reading Proust - the challenge of the thing.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 February 2012
Of course, it feels more than usually absurd to attach a star-rating to a landmark of world literature such as Proust's gargantuan novel, but then again no other novel is more likely to polarise educated opinion. It is called In Search Of Lost Time, and you may well wonder where all those hours of your life went too, and at what cost.

For my part, I think there's a trick to getting on with Vol.1, Swann's Way, which is most effective. The first section, Combray: skip it. Just leave it out, or read just a little taking it as a 'proving ground' for becoming acclimatized, but basically you should skip on to Swann In Love, which is where things begin to happen. Combray...how to put this: Combray sets a new standard for boredom. It reminded me of that character in the film Airplane, Ted Striker, who continually provokes other passengers to suicide with his woeful anecdotes. I define the effect of Combray as angry boredom, different from the usual lethargy, you'll be raging at Proust and at yourself for being such a sucker.

But it may help you to get used to Proust's often interminable sentences, so that by the time you reach Swann In Love, you'll be ready and able to enjoy the narrative and not be disconcerted by a sentence lasting a whole page and beset by hyphenated passages and others in parentheses. Because, once you get to this point, it's rather wonderful and any lingering feelings of exasperation with Proust will be smothered by admiration of his wittty and perceptive insights into the human condition. We enter a world of snobbery and good manners (and bad ones), full of people trying to ingratiate themselves with others by attempting to second guess their thoughts, trying to anticipate their humours. Where Combray was like treading in quicksand, Swann In Love is a delightful punt on the river. Swann's love for the courtesan Odette and his self-deception, treated with understanding and without condescension by the author, is a romantic tristesse most of us will be able to empathise with.

For myself, I read the final segment in a secluded public garden, the perfect setting for the narrator's musings on his burgeoning love for Swann's daughter and also his sorrow at the vanished elegance of his youthful impressions, public parks where fine ladies perambulated, now depopulated by the imperatives of a mechanized age. At the same time, the author's musings upon musings, reflecting upon reflections, in slow sentences that one must savour if their heavenly length isn't to become hellish, put me in mind of Gertrude's famous reproof to Polonius: "More matter with less art!"

It is annoying that Proust offers so few places to conveniently pause from reading, each page often composed of a block of text incorporating only one or two sentences. You just have to force yourself to put the book down. It might also be good to read something American alongside Swann's Way - you know? Something full of straight talking and confrontation. The other reviewers I've read here have ranged from ecstacies to revulsion and even penance. I repeat my suggestion for those who feel sorry to have fallen at the first hurdle of Proust's magnum opus: just trip lightly past Combray and everything gets both easier and more rewarding. You may even find yourself wanting to start again, as I did.
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on 1 February 2015
It's not necessary to praise Proust or express one's admiration for Scott-Montcrieff's stylist translation. The text is slightly botched by 'underlined' sections from a previous reader.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2013
An unbelievably dense text, which needed slow and careful reading. However, the effort was well rewarded, so if tempted to abandon the novel keep going through the difficult times. I will move on to volume two when I have enough time to devote to it.
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on 30 January 2015
Magnificent. Unapproachable until you've read it. Therefore, indescribable. Guess you'll have to read it. Good luck, or go weep
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2013
If you are after a Kindle version, then beware of the £0.76 version. It is Proust, but this is not the translation that is implied (Kilmartin/Enright). I suggest you download a sample first because this is an incorrect listing by Amazon in my view. The other Kindle version (£5.50+ as I write) is probably the correct version (again, try a sample).
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on 6 March 2015
Much more readable than I thought and I presume this is an excellent translation.
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on 26 February 2015
Truly beautiful writing.
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