Finally, finally, finally; after reading about 10 pages a day for an entire year, In Search of Lost Time is read. I will never, ever read it again but I am definitely glad I read it. I can now lift my head high in the company of others who have climbed Everest and been to the South Pole. Maybe slightly higher actually.
The final volume of the novel is both a reflection on life lived as well as a return to the 100-page musings on a single sliver of life that are characteristic of the earliest volumes.
In a departure from the others which are a continuous thread of time, the seventh installment dances through a few eras in the narrator’s life culminating with yet another dinner party at the Guermantes’ place. In arriving there, he slips on an uneven flagstone and the universe parts in homage as he reflects on this for what seems like an eternity. There are bits worth reading in there, but quite honestly, it’s all getting a bit tired. If at this point you are counting pages off like a prisoner marking the
walls of his cell, I don’t think you have anything at all to feel guilty about. And if you meet someone at a dinner party of your own and they baulk at your confession of this, you can take some comfort in the fact that, had Proust met this person, he no doubt would have parodied their elitism by using them as the basis for a character from the Guermantes’ set.
The entire novel is, quite obviously, a masterpiece written by a genius. It is loaded with perceptive observations of the world we inhabit and, more importantly, how we inhabit it and in terms of the sheer scale of its achievement it deserves a place on the podium of award-winning literature.
That said, it’s not going in the Arukiyomi hall of fame, and let me tell you why.
It’s bloody hard to read, that’s why. In parts (and those parts are hundreds, not tens, of pages long) it’s exceedingly boring. While Proust is able to turn a slip on a paving stone or the touch of a Madeleine to the tongue into the most mesmeric meditations, he seems unable to reign in a propensity for verbosity when it comes to relating conversations.
And the book is crammed full of conversations, particularly at meaningless parties or soirees at salons where the social elite get together and glance at the few only so slightly above them or, mostly, down on the masses below. These conversations are utterly futile and, if you are supposed to get the point that such social gatherings were, in themselves, utterly futile, you pick that up in the first ten pages. You don’t need thousands of pages to make that point. Either Proust does, or he thinks we do.
I can recall many memorable descriptions of things: cakes, flowers, the sea, hair, sleep, stones, sound, relationships. But I cannot recall one single conversation that any of the characters had in 3800 pages of writing. Every now and then, a character might say something pithy or worth noting. But “every now and then” in Proust means every 500 pages. Don’t hold your breath.
It seems such a shame that someone who is such a genius could not cobble together some great conversation in his literature. But then, if he had done, would we mere mortals have been able to reach the summit of what is, despite its faults, lofty literature? Probably not.
But there is something more problematic for me. One of the most famous quotes from the entire novel I can paraphrase as ‘it is not new places we need to see but to see with new eyes.’ But the problem with this philosophy as Proust applies it, quite literally at length, is that eyes that are new have not yet learned how to focus. Not only that, but new eyes have not yet gained the experience to allow them to see things in perspective. Thus, throughout this volume just as throughout the previous six, a flagstone and a world war are given fairly equal treatment.
So, it is with joy that I finish this review knowing that I have scaled the mountain, reached the summit and now find myself free to rest my aching limbs in the soft rolling verdant valleys of slimmer volumes. Whatever I read, it will not tax me to the same extent again. That’s a good feeling. Thanks for the workout Marcel.
|RATING||Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings|