Paul's Reviews > Swann's Way

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
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's review
Jun 04, 2010

really liked it

Swann’s Way (Volume 1 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) is not a novel in today’s traditional sense of the word. Instead, it’s a collection of vignettes and observations of one young man’s life. This first volume includes three works: Combray, Swann in Love and Place-Names: The Name.

In Combray, Proust’s protagonist rambles on detailed descriptions of his family structure, the social hierarchy of turn-of-the-century France and a number of pastoral settings. It may be trite, but it can easily be said that modern authors simply “don’t write like that anymore.” In Combray, Proust takes a number of pages to describe one garden and several paragraphs to detail the illumination of one leaf. The beauty of the language and the level of detail ensures the readers can develop a complete image of the setting.

Swann in Love is a detailed account of Charles Swann’s courting of his beloved Odette. The personal pain he experiences during his love affair will be familiar to many. Swann is hopelessly in love with Odette who manipulates him and generally treats him poorly. The social constructs of the time play a great deal of importance in his ability to win and keep her. Ultimately, social pressures force Odette to detach herself from Swann- even though it is our understanding that Swann is of a superior social class to Odette and her friends.

Places-names allows our narrator to tell of his first love, which ironically parallels Swann’s. We learn that his playmate, Gilberte, is actually Swann’s daughter. Her mother is briefly identified as Odette which tells us that the relationship that ended must have been later renewed.

My initial impression of Proust is that he isn’t an author you read for plot but for the shear enjoyment of his use of language and the development of his characters. I’m looking forward to starting the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.

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