Swann's Way

I was persuaded to give Proust another go on the strength of a rave review by Helen Elliott in the latest edition of The Monthly. I had bought and read (and subsequently lost) part 2 of In Search of Lost Time, Swann in Love -- it must have been about thirty years ago -- and not got much enjoyment out of it. Okay, I thought, maybe I'm mature enough now to get Proust, let's try again.

Swann's Way contains the very first part of the opus, the childhood memories and reflections of Combray (including the famous madeleine scene) as well as Swann in Love. Reader, I must confesss, I only reached the end of Combray before deciding that there are so many other books I would rather have been reading. There are certain activities that I'm still waiting to grow into -- gardening, listening to classical music, and now I have to include reading Proust to this list.

Having said that, I think I did enjoy this attempt more than the first. (Maybe Proust is an acquired taste, like olives and oysters, you just have to keep trying??) Taken in small nibbles, I could relax briefly into his exquisite, meandering, attenuated sentences that can wander over an entire page before gently coming to a halt. And I think I have a better understanding now of his feeling that an ideal image, preserved and relived in memory or constructed in the imagination, is superior to the experience of reality while it is being lived. (I suspect many anxious people would agree.) The descriptions are extraordinarily beautiful, transporting, subtle, and intense -- and yet there is a part of me that yearns for a story, and it's that part of me that refuses to be totally seduced by Proust.

I might give it another ten years and then try again...

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