Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Swann's Way (In Search of Lost Time Vol I) by Marcel Proust (4.5/5)

GoodReads says: Marcel Proust whiled away the first half of his life as a self-conscious aesthete and social climber. The second half he spent in the creation of the mighty roman-fleuve that is Remembrance of Things Past, memorializing his own dandyism and parvenu hijinks even as he revealed their essential hollowness. Proust begins, of course, at the beginning--with the earliest childhood perceptions and sorrows. Then, over several thousand pages, he retraces the course of his own adolescence and adulthood, democratically dividing his experiences among the narrator and a sprawling cast of characters. Who else has ever decanted life into such ornate, knowing, wrought-iron sentences? Who has subjected love to such merciless microscopy, discriminating between the tiniest variations of desire and self-delusion? Who else has produced a grief-stricken record of time's erosion that can also make you laugh for entire pages? The answer to all these questions is: nobody.

I say: Usually, I know and can remember the exact moment I fell in love with an author, but with Proust (and Sylvia Plath) it seems as though they just snuck into my consciousness without my knowing. Therefore, I’ve wanted to read In Search of Lost Time for the longest time, but have always been extremely daunted by the total immensity of the tome. However, last November I finally bought this beautiful Everyman’s Library Edition and have been staring at it longingly ever since, until I finally decided to just go for it.

And how glad am I for that, let me count the ways.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the first part, and I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to start the second until I had reviewed the first. But the thing that I had not anticipated was the difficulty in putting everything into words. Which leads me to this moment in time: I want to read more, yet have to talk about Swann’s Way first.

Where to even begin…

First of all, I somehow feel biased whenever I talk about Proust; since I love his style of writing so much, it’s almost as if I’m rehashing things I’ve already said. I love words. I love the English language. And even though I am aware that I am reading a translation (the C. K. Scott Moncrieff version, of course), I still cannot get over the sheer beauty of the language. Proust has the ability to pinpoint with exact precision every single emotion that the narrator feels and transform that into such a striking prose.

I, literally, found myself gasping and putting my hand over my heart over and over again (because I’m dramatic like that).

I could go on for days years about his prose, but I’ll stop there.

The story starts with the narrator eating a madeleine cake with his tea and thus starts remembering his childhood; in particular a night when he wouldn’t be able to get a goodnight kiss from his mother because Mr Swann was visiting. From that moment he goes on to remember more and more. In Swann’s Way, we get to know the narrator and his family – but no name (which I’m used to from reading all those Russian novels) – as well as Charles Swann, and other characters who remain somewhat in the background. As can be deciphered from the title of this first part, the narrator focuses on Swann’s history; his relation to the narrator’s family, his upbringing, friends, and how he met his wife, Odette. Later on it focuses on the narrator playing with the Swann’s daughter Gilberte.

Thus far in the story, I’m not very much liking the Swanns, and although I realise that everything the narrator tells us is second hand information, as he was too young to know the couple intimately at the time, their relationship is built on so much pretence, I somehow dread to think how the daughter will turn out. There is a great deal of gossip being shared, and since a lot of the people are, for now, minor characters, I’m finding it hard to pay close enough attention to everything they say. This will probably prove fatal in the future as everyone has some form of connection with each other, but I still don’t know if that connection is important or not.

I guess it’s hard to tell when you’re only 417 pages in out of 3500.

As insipid as this review is (and believe me, I know), I’m finding it hard to say something intelligible since it feels like I’ve barely scraped the surface of this story. I’m extremely excited to start the next part, Within a Budding Grove, and I suppose I’ll talk write more then.

4.5/5 because there was a little bit too much gossip that I, so far, don’t know whether or not is relevant. I know that it’s sort of unfair to grade the first part when it’s not to be read as a standalone book, but it sort of had to be done.

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