Manny's Reviews > Du côté de chez Swann

Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust
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's review
Dec 01, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: french, too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts, older-men-younger-women, life-is-proust
Read in January, 1986 , read count: 3

I think my original impetus for reading this was Thomas Disch's excellent short story "Getting into Death". Finding out that she probably only has a few weeks to live, the heroine immediately goes out, buys an edition of Proust, and starts reading. She's only able to relax once she's finished. Well, clearly, it had to be pretty good, and maybe I shouldn't wait until the last month of my life.

OK... it IS pretty good! Like all truly great novels, it's also very strange. Proust is just interested in doing his own thing, and if you don't like it, that's your problem. Everyone knows about the incredibly long sentences, which actually do have a certain charm once you've learned how to read them. This takes a while, to be honest, but you get there after a couple of hundred pages of acclimatisation. What's less well known is his extreme interest in what we would nowadays call the semantics of reference, in particular with regard to love. When you fall in love with someone you hardly know, what is actually going on? Who is it you love? What is the ontological status of the relationship? Proust manages to turn these musings into a fairly interesting story.

But it's psychology just as much as ontology. What makes people fall in love? How exactly does it happen? In the second part ("Un amour de Swann"), he puts Swann's relationship with Odette under the microscope and shows you, step by tiny step, how he falls for her, or she traps him, however you want to look at it. It's really fascinating. Needless to say, also rather depressing... probably not a good idea to read him when you're feeling too down. I find I can only read Proust at certain times of my life, but when I'm in that phase, there is nothing better.

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Quotes Manny Liked

“Many contemporaries of Proust’s insisted that he wrote the way he spoke, although when Du côté de chez Swann appeared in print, they were startled by what they saw as the severity of the page. Where were the pauses, the inflections? There were not enough empty spaces, not enough punctuation marks. To them, the sentences seemed longer when read on the page than they did when they were spoken, in his extraordinary hoarse voice: his voice punctuated them. One friend, though surely exaggerating, reported that Proust would arrive late in the evening, wake him up, begin talking, and deliver one long sentence that did not come to an end until the middle of the night. The sentence would be full of asides, parentheses, illuminations, reconsiderations, revisions, addenda, corrections, augmentations, digressions, qualifications, erasures, deletions, and marginal notes.”
Christopher Prendergast, Swann's Way
tags: proust

Reading Progress

03/09 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Marko (new) - added it

Marko Sošić Manny, take a look at this image of young Proust:

Manny What a terrific picture! He is already absolutely recognizable, but not at all the way I had imagined him...

Manny PS I only looked at the picture, then it occurred to me to check the article as well. Indeed a remarkable letter! Is it clear that it's genuine? The style doesn't sound particularly Proustian to me, but I guess he was still very young.

message 4: by Marko (new) - added it

Marko Sošić It should be genuine, this website "Letters of note" is really great, has tons of correspondence of the famous, and takes serrious care to publish only genuine stuff... I guess that at 16 he was still perfecting his style... But the story is hilarious, seems strangely fitting!

message 5: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim A very good reason indeed for starting to read Proust. I've just found a public domain French audiobook version that I'm going to download. A pleasant French voice reading Proust aloud to me is somehow very appealing. When I start I listening to it, I may even bake a batch of madeleines.

Manny Oh good, I hope Disch convinces you too! And thanks for the audiobook link. I might try that...

message 7: by Shaun (new)

Shaun To paraphrase a great critic and so-so book reader, "Manny is just interested in doing his own thing, and if you don't like it, that's your problem."

Manny Shaun, you flatter me.

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