by Marcel Proust
translated by John Sturrock
When I first started reading In Search of Lost Time, a friend of mine told me about a reading plan he had concocted which made it possible to read the entire thing in 10 weeks. It broke down to around 300 pages a week I believe, which at the time I thought was quite doable. I can easily read 300 pages of an average book in a couple of days if not hours, depending on the circumstance. However, after spending increasingly longer periods of time working through the first three volumes last year (four MONTHS on the third), I became convinced that it was utterly impossible to read 300 pages of Marcel Proust’s dense, detailed prose in the space of a week.
When I last posted an update about my expansive April reading plans, I claimed (I hoped!) that I had only 200 pages of S&G left to read in the remaining three days of the month. As you can perhaps guess by now, I had exactly 300. This was on Wednesday.
This morning, Saturday the 1st of May, I can report that I was wrong. It IS possible to read 300 pages of Proust in a week! I have been focused in the last few days as I have rarely been before, and this morning when I closed the book, having finished the last 50 pages, it was with a feeling of intense pleasure mixed of course with a great deal of contented relief.
And so, since mental fatigue is clawing at the corners of my mind (and I really want to get in on the discussion about Life a User’s Manuel that is fascinating my blogging circle!), only a brief bit about the book:
This fourth volume was initially my least favorite of the batch. I had trouble getting into it, and found the sudden expansive discussion of “invertedness” and the fixation on the sexual orientations and activities of the main characters somewhat jarring. And yet amusing. Overall, this was one of the more entertaining episodes, and I found myself laughing out loud often, even while feeling mildly miffed over Proust’s…careful, I guess…way of talking about homosexuality, as well as the racial and social prejudices of the time. “Of the time” is the essential thing to remember for me when approaching this piece of work, which features a time and place that is so hard for me to comprehend. Having already laid out the more obvious examples of how the social scramble worked in The Guermantes Way, in this volume Proust examines some of the more intimate and sensitive aspects of how these social standards apply to family members and friends whose politics or lifestyles go against the norm. Interesting stuff.
Marcel, in this book, continues to frustrate and amuse me. His love life has always been of mild interest to me comparatively, especially since I find his pettiness and jealousies tiresome, and his manipulation of the women around him down right beastly sometimes. I don’t know what people see in him! But his insights into the people that surround him, and Proust’s commentary through him on how we (still!) interact with each other, especially in social settings, continue to fascinate me. Some of the passages about the lovely Balbec countryside reminded me of parts that I LOVED in the first book – I wish he had spoken a little more about that, instead of going off into lengthy explanations of the roots of the place-names in the area…!
So overall quite enjoyable and the last few days, which have been overwhelmed by Proust, have been quite rewarding. I don’t intend to make a habit of reading Proust in 100 pages a day chunks, but it is worth learning that spending a little more focused time with him, and getting REALLY caught up in his language, can be very pleasant.
On a final finicky note, is anyone else as annoyed as I that the last two volumes in the new Penguin translations project aren’t available in the states? I have the first four in their pretty Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, but I’m going to have to get the rest in the British edition – which are lovely! But they don’t match…. 😦 Really, really silly. But I know a lot of you will understand!