This was a book of two halves for me. The first half starts off with a relocation to Paris from the coast and the obsession with yet another female. After Gilberte in volume 1 and Albertine in volume 2, the narrator now pursues the Duchesse de Guermantes. I thought he’d grow out of this kind of compulsive behaviour by now but no, he’s at it again.
As this volume progresses, it becomes clear that it is not an obsession with the female form per se that has our narrator staking out this woman in all weathers. Rather it is a combination of her sex and the fact that she is, as far as he’s concerned when the volume opens, one step down from divinity due to her social rank.
But, cleverly (although very laboriously for me) the true nature of the Guermantes set and their ilk are revealed as little more than a facade of social obligation. By the end of the volume, although the narrator has managed to inveigle his way into the set himself, he is entirely
disenchanted with the lot of them. This disenchantment is the result of a 400-page dinner party, during which, one by one those he admires reveal enough of their true natures to his piercing observation that he sees through them all.
That’s the half of the novel I found hardest coming, as it did so, after a first half with some notable events including the loss of a close member of the family in quite a moving rendition of grief.
So, I’ll consider the latter half a literary necessity. I can see how it verges on satire as the narrator gradually reveals the sham society that the so-called elite revel in. This is where, for me, Proust’s verbosity made for turgid prose. I know, shoot me on sight for saying so, but I honestly wish he’d just get to the point sometimes. Oh, and if you tackle this and the next volume, do make sure you read up on the Dreyfuss affair or you won’t have a clue what they’re all talking about.
Over halfway and glad it’s all downhill from here…
As Proust intended this to be a single novel, I won’t be rating In Search of Lost Time until the final volume