on 14 May 2010
This book is an immensely enjoyable read, written in clear, non-academic prose. The author's enthusiasm for Proust is clear from the outset and catching, too. If you've tackled Proust before, or if you intend to, this is a book you will need. In the first section Patrick Alexander elegantly summarises the plot of each volume, providing plenty of quotations. Next follows a guide to the (many) characters, and the book concludes with biographical and historical material to place 'A la recherche' in context. Just as Harry Blamires' guide is indispensable when tackling 'Ulysses', and Brian Boyd's 'Nabokov's Pale Fire' for understanding the complexities and hidden pleasures of that book, so too does this reader's guide make a roaring lion of a read seem more like an approachable pussy cat.
Such a byword for pretentiousness that Monty Python had a 'Summarise Proust' skit - very funny it is too - his great novel certainly warrants a guide since even its admirers,( I am one), admit that it is not exactly an easy read. This is an indispensable little guide to it, signposting plot and themes and characters such that you will not likely get lost in the deliberately labyrinthine prose. Yes, Proust's chef d'oeuvre has its longueurs, asthma is being recapitulated for one thing, but it is a quite brilliant novel and the more people are encouraged to try it and helped to enjoy it, the better. Just to experience the last book is to learn - I did in 1984 - just a little about Time and its depredations; to enjoy the social set pieces is to experience one of the great comedians of manners in any language, as well to appreciate a moral critic as exacting as Chekhov. It may also help you to see how funny Proust can be; as well as one of the most profound writers on Love - for what it is worth I think him quite the best on this, if ,erm, chastening ("Dr Freud, the screens!"). A great help in reading a very great book, although I would not supplement it with de Botton whom I find facile; try the short essay by Frank Kermode is his 'Modern Essays' instead, it's a gem. With this and that, you are off.