Proust or Bust – A different sort of page-turner.

Time: there never seems to be enough of it to do the things I want to do. I think I mentioned in my last posting about reading Proust that I only seem to be able to appreciate his writing when I can commit myself to at least two hours of uninterrupted reading in the day time. I need to settle into the rhythm of his writing which often involves retracing my steps to pick up the thread of an idea. Naturally, in my busy life, these opportunities are few and far between and my lamentable attention to this blog is evidence of using those precious opportunities to catch up on volume one .

I assume that time was something Proust enjoyed in bountiful abundance; to craft a work of this magnitude, so replete with ideas and emotion, would surely require a lifestyle akin to that of a cave-dwelling hermit, (which I know he was in essence towards the end of his life, holed up in semi-darkness against all manner of threats to his delicate health).

I can’t lay claim to such time and I’m already feeling nervous about the mammoth task ahead of me if I am to complete even just one reading of the entire work. I’ve just looked up the second volume, Within a Budding Grove, and it come in at over six hundred pages. I’m not doing that again because it gave me literary palpitations. Why didn’t someone take me aside in my twenties and say, “Right you, read Proust now. All of it. Then do it again every decade until you die.”? Because, novice as I am at reading Proust, I am already aware that I will want to read it all again. I know that I’m missing something on every page; that there is so much more going on than I can possibly understand in one reading.

Take the section “Swann in Love”. This ‘chapter’ (can we call it that? It comes in at 235 pages with no breaks between paragraphs) describes in wonderful detail Swann’s descent into love with Odette. Nothing else. Just that. Proust clearly decided that he wanted his reader to understand totally Swann’s motivations, the nuances of his every feeling, each complex emotion and convoluted thought process. Having reached the end of the section I think I do, but there must be so much that I failed to pick up on. The problem is, if I keep re-reading whole sections of this length, I will never reach the end of Swann’s Way, let alone progress through the entire oeuvre.

Proust, I assume, did not have one eye on the best-seller lists of his day. This is no ‘leave-them-hanging-on’ page-turner. But it is, for me at least, a page-turner of another order; I can’t wait to discover down which allegorical alleyway Proust is going to take me next. It is proving to be an inspirational read; I just wish I had started this odyssey earlier in life when there was so much more time.

2 comments on “Proust or Bust – A different sort of page-turner.

  1. marimann says:

    Ahhh, Proust hooks another addict.

  2. Jules says:

    I found your blog when I googled ‘faire cattleya’ as although I understood what he meant I couldn’t get the reference – had forgotten about her corsage! I’m 68 and have been meaning to read Proust since I was a student – and like you I have written ‘knowledgeably’ about him without reading a word. He’s been sitting on my shelf too for nearly 50 years and I recently started him (in French). First I made the mistake of reading at night and falling asleep during a long sentence where I couldn’t work out what was the subject of the verb; now I approach him in long daytime chunks and am getting on much better. I love the long dreamy rambling contemplative sentences and the endless sections in parentheses – and what a wonderful description of falling in and out of love.

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