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5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps some of the greatest masterpieces were read while yawning., 28 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: In Search Of Lost Time, Vol 2: Within a Budding Grove: Within a Budding Grove Vol 2 (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The above is, of course, a paraphrase of Marcel's remark about great writing not necessarily coinciding with zeal.

The good news is that Volume 2 of In Search Of Lost Time is much more engaging than its predecessor, despite the similarities. Where in Vol.1 the main was taken up with M. Swann eating his heart out over the behaviour of his lover, the courtesan Odette, her loving indifference and really imagined infidelities (if one may call them that), within the budding grove it is Marcel's turn to wrack his brains over Odette's daughter, the charming young Gilberte. The narrator's visits to the Swann's residence, his admiration for Madame Swann and her daughter, these take up the first third of the volume; thereafter the novel almost morphs into travel writing, describing Marcel's vacation at Balbec with his grandmother, their new circle of acquaintance there and the fleeting possibilities of erotic encounters with other holidaymakers.

Congratulations on making it past Vol.1 because now you can savour to an even greater degree the wit, the perspicacity of this most observant of authors. The number of passages that will have you nodding with recognition, perhaps a little pained, replete with Proust's insights into human psychology, are legion; and for the rest, there are his loving evocations of sunlight, depictions of nature, paeans to elegance and charm, delineations of social rank and the manners and follies pertaining to each group at whatever level. If there is one overriding theme to this novel, so far, it appears to be regret. Perhaps regret goes with the territory.

On the debit side, there are still countless pages entirely filled by a single paragraph, few convenient places to pause, an obsessive interest in ladies' fashions which I personally find rather odd, and one can only wonder at just who, if anyone, was Proust's editor? Sometimes the same, admittedly obsessive, thoughts and ideas - such as when Marcel is cogitating how to rekindle Gilberte's affection - are repeated and become wearisome. As with Vol.1 I was reminded of a movie, this time Wonder Boys, the one where novelist Michael Douglas' magnum opus has grown out of control and his attention to detail has become a symptom of an unwilingness to make life decisions. While reading I imagined myself as Proust's first reader, manuscript in hand as he waited expectantly, crossing the room to embrace him before promptly beating him over the head with it.

I don't know if this kind of imagination really touches upon the human soul, the scenes and social encounters appearing before the eye like moving pictures on a series of exquisitely painted vases. What can't be denied is that Within A Budding Grove is frequently fascinating, funny, poignant and hugely insightful. Beautifully written even while it is interminable. This kind of writing may have inspired all that stream of consciousness tedium so beloved of the moderns - I'll have to check my dates - but even if so we must forgive Proust when there's so much more to be taken from his gargantuan book than there is in the epic obscurities and perverse navel-gazing of Joyce or Woolf.
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