on 28 May 2011
In Search of Lost Time is a very strange experience and not just while your are actually reading it.
I'm not, although I would like to, go into Proust's strange prose style - which admittedly you do get used to after a while, in fact it becomes so normal you find yourself doing it - because I'm not a student of literature and there are others far more eloquent than I to explain his elongated sentences that go on and on forever without coming to an end and by the time you get there you've forgotten what he was talking about when he started.
But like I said, you do get used to.
Actually, in the beginning I used to underline the subject-verb-object (or whatever order it came in) with pencil - dirty habit I know.
But the strangest thing about reading this book comes after.
You hear his echo EVERYWHERE!
Not just in thoughts on the nature of memory and time, but also: self image, alienation, love, self pity, selfishness, sensation, food, fashion, snobbery, delusion, hypochondira, society, vision, colour, art, fickleness... and you realise you'd never really thought about them objectivity before. Proust breaks these ideas down for you into their constituent parts, contemplates, ruminates (yes maybe a little too long), and leaves you with a clear sense of it within the human experience.
This book had such an impact on early 20th century artists and writers you hear these echoes constantly, even if they are second hand influences, but strangest of all, you hear them in yourself.
The book is a breakdown of all the silly games humans play with themselves and each other.
Very few of the characters , least of all Marcel, is admirable.
Is that because Proust is unafraid to give him over to you guts and psychic bubble and all?
Would any real life human being BE endearing if we could truly see inside their soul every single selfish thought and demon?
I doubt it, but then Marcel is probably a silly boy anyway.
Be warned - you may not necessarily find this "entertaining".
Is it worth it?
I think it was, although I wasn't sure until I was 2 books in. Then I took a break and read Nabakov's Lolita (fabulous book) and realised just how much more I was able to interpret now I could use Proust as a literary window.
If the study of the arts since 1913 was like DIY, In Search of Lost Time is like an electric screwdriver - you never knew how much you needed it until you have it.
on 9 June 2009
The greatest novel ever? Quite possibly. Certainly there is nothing to compare in terms of quantity and quality combined, and compared to other very long novels Proust is easy to read. His writing is so beautiful, the famously long sentences full of a glorious wit and insight, that I found this semi-fictional memoir a great pleasure to read, so much so that I have now read two different translations.
If you find the prospect of reading the whole magnificent opus too daunting, just start with Swann's Way, which can be treated as a novel in its own right, and see if you don't become hooked. That and the second volume will give you the flavor of the whole work and if you aren't enjoying it there's no point in ploughing through, or buying, the later volumes. You'll either love the writing and think it's the best ever, or you'll give up early on, unable to face the challenge that lies ahead.
So what's it all about? Well, if I may be so bold as to try summarizing around 3,500 pages in two words (and improve on Monty Python in the process), I'd say it was about human weakness. Proust's great strength as a writer is his ability, with his extraordinarily sensitive nature, to capture the essence of what it means to be human: to desire, to love, to cheat, to be jealous, to face death, plus quite a lot about the appeal of art and music. All this is in the context of wealthy Parisian society at the end of the nineteenth century, which may seem far removed from the world we live in now, but the one of the great things about the book is that we can see that people don't really change: human nature is human nature still.
Which translation to go for? I don't think it matters too much: the more recent editions have their devotees, though I preferred, on balance, the original Scott Moncrieff version, which retains the feel of Proust's flowing prose rather than putting literal accuracy above all else, and ultimately it is the beauty of the writing that makes Proust so special.
on 12 June 2003
Proust's great novel is by far the greatest work of literature I have ever read, including Shakespeare, Goethe, Joyce, Woolf, Dostoyesvsky, Austen, Nabokov, Hemingway and Tolstoy. 'Lost Time' is a story spanning forty years in the life of a man named only once in the narrative, and follows his reminiscences of love, society, and becoming a writer. Proust has the deepest insight into human behaviour and the human mind: it is humanity itself that he essentially aims to dissect within the flesh of his novel. But 'Lost Time' is also a novel very much about art, sexuality, and of course, his famous themes of Memory and Habit. The plot itself is very, very slow (it took me five weeks of absolute solid non-stop reading to devour all six volumes, but by week two my wife had only got as far as page fifty, and then gave up), so if you want a pacey story, a quick and satisfying read, then this will not be for you - having said this, I actually found parts quite exciting, and, despite the banality of some of the events, Proust's writing makes the story so enjoyable that it is quite unputdownable; it can be hard work, but it can also be sublimely easy to read: it is as if, after a hundred pages or so, one becomes 'fluent' in Proust, and reading him becomes as natural as taking another breath.
Proust manages, in my opinion, to achieve perfection in every literary sense: vol. 1 is a poetic and moving reminiscence of childhood, and contains some breathtakingly beautiful passages (especially of Combray), and includes the delightful novella 'Swann in Love' (these Swann bits and childhood bits are important to the later volumes too); vol. 1 is perfectly acceptable to be read on its own, without the others, if you so desire (and don't have the time); vol. 2 is the 'Bildungsroman', as it were, and sets up all the important characters, including the wonderful Saint-Loup and the alluring Albertine; vol. 3 is very much a 'society' novel, although don't expect 'Vanity Fair' ... what struck me in this part, and more so in vol. 4 was how utterly hilarious a writer Proust is - his humour is at once cruel and delightful; then vol. 4 is very much the 'gay' novel, and probably the funniest too - I laughed aloud all the way through ... the characterisation of the Baron is formidable in this volume - probably one of the best drawn characters in all of literature; but vol. 5, the Captive, I found to be very slow, and very intense, but although it has the most frustratingly slow passages, it has the most sublimely beautiful ones too - ones that rival the entire poetical canon; and vol. 5, the Fugitive, is sort of a summing up, a tying up of loose ends before the finale; finally, vol. 6 is indeed the very finale, and it is quite spectacular, one can see clearly the terrifying influence of the Great War on Proust in this part.
Vols. 1 and 6 were written first as a small (700p) novel, which Proust then added, and added, and added to, as the years went by. I could really feel his development (to perfection), as a writer, through the volumes, but it still all holds in the same wonderful voice throughout. Incidentally, the new Penguin translations read quite poorly in comparison to this one, and lose a lot of the humour. Always stick with the D.J. Enright revised translation - it is the best English version.
This is a must read for everyone who has the time to do so. Reading this was not only the most phenomenal literary experience of my life, but also one of the most amazing experiences of my life full stop. This novel finds the perfect balance between the most poetic prose of all time, engrossing characters (and their stories), intellectual and investigative essayistic passages, artistic and pyschoanalytical investigation, both satirical and delightful humour, and the most perspicacious observations of humanity ever written.
Proust's great novel is sheer perfection. If you read it, be prepared to not enjoy any other novels afterward - because you probably won't: nothing better can be written. Genius.
on 23 July 2009
Marcel Proust is an unsurpassed observer of human nature, many will identify with his remarks. Different people will see reflections of themselves in different passages, Proust's writting makes everybody feel as if looking in the mirror and you will have an altered perception of yourself after reading the "Search of lost time". This book is also a unique opportunity to be introduced to some of the greatest works of art of the western civilization through the way that the author experiences them and reconstructs them in his everyday life. This is applied art and it is one of Proust's gifts. The other is that he will make you feel happy for being alive, his attitude towards life is so positive, what a pleasure-seeking and fun-loving person that he was. He transmits that through his art.
I recommend this edition of Proust, the translation is of very high standards. I believe that the complexity of the author's sentences and his challenging syntax are allowed to shine. Amazing manipulation of language, Proust was an extraordinarily educated man and the words chosen by Moncrieff and Kilmartin are so special, again they allow the airy and higly elaborated writing of Proust to manifest itself.
on 18 January 2000
As someone unused to reading 'heavy' literature I approached the first volume of In Search of Lost Time with a certain amount of trepidation. The first half is indeed hard going, and I could see why Proust himself once referred to his work as a 'piece of indigestible nougat'. The sentences are long, with innumerable subordinate clauses, and I often found myself having to re-read them in order to grasp what was going on. In addition, Proust spends tens of pages describing topics such as the village church at Combray which, frankly, however original his description, was pretty boring. But persevere to part two, the description of Swann and Odette's love affair, and not only does the material become infinitely more interesting but, with the increase in the amount of direct speech, becomes easier to read.
If you're still feeling daunted, I'd recommend reading Alain de Botton's book 'How Proust can Change Your Life' first - a funny, sublime look at Proust and In Search of Lost Time. He gives you an idea what to expect in terms of Proust's style and points out things of interest to look out for along the way.
The ultimate test of how much you enjoy this book will be whether you want to carry on with the next 5 volumes. I'm already half-way through volume 2...
on 2 September 2010
I took note of all the reviews before taking the plunge. I was initially tempted having read Alain de Botton's 'How Proust can change your life' and I was pleased that I made the effort. Yes, it is very slow going especially for the first 50 pages but pay attention and you will be rewarded. The very long passages are deceptive, long descriptions that I'd certainly skip if it was Thomas Hardy. But these pages contain absolute gems that are worth the effort - moments of brilliant commentary on social life and existential concerns. The oddest aspect is the lack of normal length chapters so it is difficult to decide when to take a break. Best not to bother - just make sure you have a long holiday planned and keep reading.
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.
on 20 July 2015
Slow and careful, with a rhythm that draws you in, gradually gripping you until you never want it to end. Make no mistake - those vast sentences are all crafted to magnificent effect. I read some of the book in and around Cabourg, which seemed fitting and added an extra resonance. The presentation of characters is superb, as is the rendition of those small, intimate moments of everyday life that later turn out to be far more significant that we could have anticipated. A true classic, to be returned to again and again. But first, the next volume . . .
on 18 January 2008
It has taken approximately three months just to read through the first novel of this great and august work, which I suppose goes to show how much time and effort Proust put into writing this.
It is a very time-consuming plot. In the first instance he tends to go on at length about how he is waiting at the top of the stairs for his mother to come and kiss him goodnight and then deviates at length in a painterly and studious way around how he evokes the environs of Combray. This departure seems to extend into a little novella all of its own, before you arrive finally at the reason the book was entitled as it was, i.e. Swann's pursuit and on-off love affair with Odette. You wend your way via endless luncheons and dinner parties at the Verdurins and glimpsing Odette's other flings as a courtesan with various Comtes and Ducs (sic)particularly Fourcheville, who is Swann's main rival.
But all in all, this is a creative tour de force, is superbly written, as is evident by the number of drafts Proust went through before its final completion and is well worth three months of anyone's time in terms of a good bedtime read. I just hope Volume II will not be as time consuming. I think the phrase "just hang in there!" is appropriate as there are better things to come from this delightful range of novels.
This is the first volume in Proust’s masterpiece, “In Search of Lost Time.” As I had never read Proust before, I embarked on this journey with a little trepidation. Would I simply get ‘bogged down’ as some readers suggested? Would I just not “get it…” Thankfully, I am pleased to report that this is an enjoyable and remarkable read. I would say that this is a book which requires you to drift with the author’s words – you need quiet and peace and time to fully appreciate this book. As such, I discovered it was not to be read during the commute, but saved for moments when I did have the peace and quiet to savour it properly. It is not a novel which should be rushed – there is no plot to race through, no need to ‘get to the end.’ Just change your perceptions from the writing rules of today – realise that sadly this book would not be published today as it refuses to conform to the ordinary – and then embrace it for what it is.
Indeed, even in 1913, when this first volume was first released, Proust had to self publish this work; leading publishers having rejected the manuscript. Thankfully, by early 1914, one editor – Andre Gide – had the humility to apologise to Proust for rejecting the book and stating, “For several days I have been unable to put your book down… The rejection of this book will remain the most serious mistake ever made by the NRF and, since I bear the shame of being very much responsible for it, one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life.”
So, what is this book actually about? It is actually split into three parts. The first, “Combray,” sees our narrator musing on childhood memories. It is fair to say that, if you enjoy this part of the book, you will be able to read to the end. Musings, memories, drifting passages and endless paragraphs will either embrace you – or leave you frustrated and infuriated. The middle section is almost a novella in itself – and often taken as such and taught in French schools – and tells the story of Swann’s jealous infatuation with Odette. Lastly, the shorter, third part of the book, sees our narrator having his own infatuation, with the daughter of Swann; the schoolgirl Gilberte. However, although this tells you the bare+ facts of the novel, it does not do justice to the sheer poetry of the writing and the meandering style. It is fair to say that you will either not make it to the end or immediately reach for the second volume. Personally, I am grateful that I discovered this sublime novel and have every intention of reading on.