Proust or bust? In search of more time to read.

Portrait of Proust

I have finally succumbed to the inevitable. It may have been a long time coming and I have certainly done my best to put it off for many (oh, so many) years; but now I have taken the plunge and rescued the book, un-loved and un-read, from its dusty home high up on my book-case and embarked on that most ambitious of reading endeavours: Proust’s seven volume oeuvre, ‘In Search of Lost Time’.

I have had a copy of the first volume, ‘Swann’s Way’, for over ten years, and it has been taunting (haunting?) me ever since. I can no longer justify owning what so many people say is one of the greatest and most important works in literature without actually having read it; and in all honesty, I have wanted to read it. I think like many others though, the prospect of failing, of not finishing, and, dare I say it? of not understanding has prevented me from trying.

Now that I have started, and admittedly, I am only thirty or so pages in (I haven’t even reached the madeleine yet!), I wish that I had done this years ago. The writing is sublime, even in translation; goodness knows how it feels in French. (I do speak French, but I’m happy to admit that the task of reading Proust in the original language is beyond me).

I have read about Proust, of course, and loved Edmund White’s concise and informative biography of the writer; I just didn’t want to be someone who thinks they know all about Proust without having read a word of his prose.

As someone who is trying to be a writer, I know the importance of reading, reading, reading. I read widely and I read a lot. I hope that by reading Proust, I will add to my own abilities with the pen. White tells us at the start of his biography that Proust’s German translator feared that reading more Proust than he absolutely had to would be an obstacle to his own production. I’m not so worried that this will be a problem for me; my greatest fears at the moment are not making it further than volume one and not having time to finish the job.

I shall of course keep you posted on my progress and welcome any advice from those of you who have read, or are reading, Proust’s epic work.


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