Proust, yeah that Proust who writes books with paragraph long sentences about nothing. Many think him the example of dull indulgent literary fiction; others sing odes that somehow fail to rouse the most passionate of readers to try his books, and there are those for whom Proust is another author to namedrop in front of the pulp fiction reading masses. When NetGalley offered a new edition of Swann’s Way (Volume one of the seven volume In Search of Lost Time, also know as Remembrance of Things Past) published by Yale University Press, I decided I might as well see all about Proust for myself.
Yes, it is a long read, and yes, it veers towards the ponderous and the tedious, but it is not uninteresting. Even though the reading does demand a certain patience and concentration, I found myself drawn in. His observations of childhood were engrossing, more so because of his precise explorations of its exaggerated fears and the outsized anxieties. The attention to detail can overwhelm, but they do weave magical tapestry of feeling and depth. His explorations of characters, e.g. the narrator’s aunts and grandmother, captured humans in their most ordinary and their most captivating moments.
An important theme of the volume is memory and its fickleness, its uncertain divagations, its distressing lack of assurances. A lot of passages were long and impressionistic, dreamscapes so dense with images and vague feelings that I had to read a few times to comprehend the breathtaking immensity of it. Take the book cover image of a Madeleine, for instance: the narrator’s simple act of tasting a Madeleine unleashes a torrent of feelings and flitting images that last for more than two pages. After a while, you sense that the point of reading Swann’s way is not to consume wholesale, but to savor in piecemeal fashion–this is not a text you can read quickly like the latest pulp fiction novel.
As I understand it, this edition is a revision of the 1923 Scott Montcrief’s translation, revisions done by the editor and Proust scholar,William Carter. His annotations on French culture and French historical references were helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of the text. And the prose style was modern and readable enough for my standards. If you have been wary about trying Proust, you can do no better than trying a copy of this edition.