A few days ago I finished reading this very important work of great literature. What can I say about this plumb that has not been said before, and can easily be found on the internet or from the numerous commentaries which have been published over the years? It is a book that I have thought about reading for many, many years, and felt that June 1 was a good time to take it on. I think that I was first introduced to the name Proust back when i was an undergraduate, by way of Artur Rubinstein (who lamented not being able to read his beloved Proust and Joyce after going blind, in his later years).
As everyone knows, this is the first of seven volumes. It is like nothing I have ever read before, with it’s unbelievably long descriptions and sometimes confusing time-line. The name of the narrator is never revealed, although it should appear in later volumes. The denseness of the prose was overwhelming and it was easy to get bogged down. Almost every time I read a paragraph, I felt that I needed to re-read it. It is slow reading, and a book which needs to be re-visited over and
Proust has many things to say about the past, such as this excerpt:
“And so it is with our own past. It is a labor in vain to attempt to re-capture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that intellect, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”
Also, consider this:
“The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished…”
Quite a few ideas were presented in regard to art, music and literature. I was delighted to see Franz Liszt’s “St. Francis Preaching to a Flock of Birds” – a work I have loved for years, and discovered on my own (thank you Alfred Brendel). That Proust would have it be a viable part of the novel puts a smile on my face – great minds think alike!
In addition the book bears directly on all sorts of psychological issues (such as separation anxiety), Truth and Beauty,
the class system in fin de siecle France, family life, sadism, and many varieties and permutations of love. All of this was laid out in a very, very deep and thorough way, with paragraphs that sometimes went on for several pages.
“Proust creates an interior monologue that features stream-of-consciousness and time shifting.” These techniques can also be found in Faulkner, Joyce and Conrad.
So, what did this book mean to me personally? It’s hard to say, because it was so dense. Never in my life have i been presented with so much information in the way of detail. I would have to say that it confirmed some of my beliefs and attitudes, and helped me look at certain things in a new light, such as distant memories and the feelings associated with these memories. It is primarily a book of feeling – a heart book rather than a head book
How Proust Can Change Your Life is a book that several of my friends have read and recommended. One does not need to read Proust to enjoy this particular book.
Challenging as it was, it made for engaging reading, and I look forward to the next volume, “In a Budding Grove.”